Share this article

print logo

Mike Harrington: Orpik an unlikely offensive hero as Caps even series

LAS VEGAS -- Brayden Holtby made a miraculous save to preserve the lead. Not outrageous to think that could happen. Brooks Orpik scored the game-winning goal. Hard to fathom that could happen in the Stanley Cup final.

The Washington Capitals held on for a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights here Wednesday night, the second straight breathtaking affair in a series that is leaving hockey fans rueing the nights off.

Holtby dove to his right to rob Vegas' Alex Tuch on a paddle save with 1:58 left when a sure tying goal looked to be in the offing after a bad bounce off the corner boards. Television cameras caught Alex Ovechkin on the bench burying his head in his hands in relief after the stop, which could certainly grow in significance as the series moves back to Washington.

"Thank God he's our goalie," Ovechkin said afterward.

There was plenty of thanks elsewhere in the Caps' dressing room as well when the topic of Orpik was raised. His second-period goal that hit Tuch and bounced pass Marc-Andre Fleury to give Washington a 3-1 lead was his first goal since Feb. 26, 2016.

Some perspective? The goal was so long ago that it came four months before Vegas was even awarded its NHL franchise. It was 221 games ago, spanning 181 regular-season contests and 40 inthe postseason.

Orpik had no goals in 92 combined games last season. He had not scored in 101 games this season. It was the longest active goal scoring drought in the league.

Orpik took a pass from Lars Eller and fired a quick snap shot that found its way home. The Capitals players on the bench and on the ice erupted when the puck went in the net. Forward Brett Connolly bolted at Orpik and grabbed him in a bear hug. Replays showed players on the bench laughing and smiling widely.

"It was pretty lively on the bench I would say," said defenseman John Carlson. "He's done so much for this team and doesn't get any credit from anyone else. The guys in here respect the hell out of him. He's a warrior. He comes to play every single night. He comes to practice every day. He looks out for people constantly. He's the heart and soul of this team."

Forward Jay Beagle also used the term "warrior" and Orpik again was proving it after the game, as he was unable to meet the media because he was getting stitched up for an unknown issue.

"Orpik is one of those guys that stats and analytics probably aren't kind to," said coach Barry Trotz. "He's old school, a true pro. ... A guy like Brooks who's in the trenches, blocks shots, does all those dirty things without fancy stats, they loved it."

"Brooksie doesn't score a lot of goals but that was a huge one," said center Lars Eller, who avenged his near-miss in the final minute of Game 1 with a goal and two assists. "We need guys, every single guy, chipping in. Sometimes they need to chip in ways they don't always do. He came up huge for us. It was nice to see him join the rush."

Orpik, 37, is the sage of the Washington roster. He's the only member of the Capitals with previous experience in the Cup final, having lost in 2008 and won in 2009 with Pittsburgh in a pair of series against Detroit. The players love him, even if Orpik is regularly savaged on social media for his lack of foot speed and utter lack of scoring.

Orpik is one of those players who never really gets claimed much as a Western New York representative in the NHL but his story bears repeating because he spent a few years in the Buffalo suburbs.

Born in San Francisco, Orpik grew up in East Amherst. He began at age 10 in the Amherst Hockey Association, played for the Buffalo Saints, Wheatfield Blades and The Nichols School before transferring to a Massachusetts prep school, Thayer Academy, for his junior and senior years in high school. He was drafted 18th overall by PIttsburgh in 2000 after playing at Boston College.

Born seven months after the Lake Placid Olympics, Orpik was named after legendary team USA coach Herb Brooks. As the story goes, his father wanted to name him Herb but Mom, showing good judgment, said that might not be the best idea for a little tyke in school. Brooks was the compromise name.

Orpik had spent the early part of his career winning with the Penguins but then he fell into the rut with the rest of his teammates at the end of the Dan Bylsma years in Pittsburgh. When the Caps signed Orpik to a five-year, $27.5 million contract in July, 2014, they got savaged. Way too much for a defensive defenseman in his 30s. Probably true.

But Orpik is a calming influence on the blueline. That was in evidence again Wednesday as Orpik was a key member of the Washington penalty kill that survived a 69-second, 5-on-3 advantage for the Golden Knights early in the third period. Orpik and defense partner Matt Niskanen were on the ice for two minutes, 19 seconds of the combined 2:52 the Caps were shorthanded.

The prevailing wisdom after the Game 1 track meet was that the coaches were going to wrangle control of the game back from the teams and clutter things up. Didn't really happen. Frankly, it may not in this series with these teams. Too much speed and skill.

The Caps, however, lost some of that skill in the first period when Evgeny Kuznetsov, the NHL's leading scorer in the playoffs, suffered what looked like a serious shoulder/collarbone injury. It came on a high hit from Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb, the former Sabre.

Washington dealt with an injury to Nicklas Backstrom in the last two rounds and was able to persevere. This will be another big test but the Caps have shown to be up to the task this postseason. They're 9-3 on the road and handed Vegas its first regulation home loss of the playoffs.

Holtby stopped 37 of 39 shots in a huge bounceback performance, including all 15 he faced in the third period.  And the Caps got their stay-at-home, defensive defenseman to provide the winning goal. Even if nobody could have imagined that happening.

Story topics: / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment