Updated May 15, 2018 - 8:59 pm
The Nate Schmidt hype train is picking up speed.
The Golden Knights defenseman turned in a standout performance in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, helping shut down Winnipeg’s top line.
As a result, Schmidt received plenty of plaudits Tuesday from media across the U.S. and Canada.
“You want to challenge yourself every night, playing against a great line that’s been really good in the playoffs,” Schmidt said following Game 2 in Winnipeg. “And you want to be able to leave your mark on the game. We’re leaving our mark on the game right now.”
Schmidt developed into the Knights’ No. 1 defenseman after struggling to find consistent ice time in Washington last season.
Along with defense partner Brayden McNabb, Schmidt has been matched against the Jets’ high-scoring No. 1 line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor.
That trio was held scoreless during 5-on-5 play in the Knights’ 3-1 victory in Game 2.
“Nate played two excellent games on the road. It doesn’t surprise me,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said Tuesday. “We take Nate for granted sometimes because he does the job for us every night. He and his partner, they do a good job shutting down top lines as best they can. They work hard and compete hard and they do a great job for us. The way Nate distributes the puck and the way Nate skates, it’s a strong point for him.”
Schmidt made several notable defensive plays Monday, including forcing a turnover by Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor in the neutral zone that led to the first of Jonathan Marchessault’s two goals.
He swept a loose puck out of the crease in the opening minute after Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was unable to swallow up Scheifele’s shot from close range.
And his stickiness while defending Scheifele during one sequence drew praise from NBC Sports analysts Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones during the second intermission.
“Schmitty was outstanding last night, stepping up,” McNabb said. “He had a great stick, his gaps were outstanding and he played a great game. That’s something we’ve got to continue to do.”
Schmidt was a healthy scratch in 14 of Washington’s final 21 games last season after the Capitals acquired Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis.
Schmidt broke into the Capitals postseason lineup when Karl Alzner was injured and carried that confidence into this season after being selected by the Knights in the expansion draft.
“The thing is about this year, (Gallant) and (assistant coach Ryan McGill) just kind of believed in what we can do and just put us all in roles that we can succeed in,” Schmidt said after Game 2. “And here I am and just couldn’t be happier with the situation we’re in and how we’re playing and how I’ve developed into this new role on this new team.”