WASHINGTON – Brooks Orpik jumped off the Capitals bench, and his eyes lit up.
Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov was all alone behind the net, Carolina Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen was without his hockey stick and Orpik was steaming into the offensive zone as fast as his 38-year-old legs could carry him.
“We get to this time of the year, I'm probably not counted on for too many goals,” Orpik said. “But I think if you want to have the long runs, you need everybody kind of chipping in and doing things they don't normally do.”
Kuznetsov hesitated for a heartbeat and then put the puck through to Orpik’s stick in overtime of Game 2 of a Stanley Cup Playoffs First-Round series against Carolina Hurricanes. He made no mistake. For the second time in his career, Orpik ripped a sudden death overtime goal into the back of the net.
The Washington bench and the Capital One Arena crowd went nuts. The Capitals took a 4-3 victory and a 2-0 series lead heading to Raleigh for Game 3 on Monday. And Orpik took it all in stride.
A player who broke a goal drought of more than two years and 220 games in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final last spring against the Vegas Golden Knights has a penchant for these moments. Orpik also scored an overtime-clinching goal in Game 6 of a first-round series against the New York Islanders in 2013. He has 18 goals in his career during the regular season (1,035 games) and four playoff goals (151 games) during that time.
“You cannot put a price on experience in playoff hockey,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “I’ve been through it the last 10 years in the league, actually 10 years with him, and I know what happens in playoff time playing against a player like that. I’ve seen him score more than one overtime, series-clinching (goal).”
Reirden was an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where Orpik played the first 11 years of his career. They both arrived in Washington in 2014 – Orpik as a free agent, Reirden joining Barry Trotz’s new coaching staff.
Orpik’s teammates were thrilled. The man they call "Batya" -- a colloquial nickname given to him by his Russian teammates years ago that means something akin to “dad” or “father figure,” but something you'd never call your actual father -- is beloved in the room. That was evident enough during last year’s Stanley Cup championship parade. It was no different on Saturday.
“Ropy is a secret weapon,” Alex Ovechkin said with a smile.
Added Nicklas Backstrom: “I always said this about Brooks: First of all, he's a terrific guy. He's like a dad in the locker room to everybody, very professional guy. It's a guy you love to have on your team, but you hate to play against. I'm so happy for him that he scored this OT goal. If anyone deserves it, I'd say it's him.”
Orpik has had a physical impact against Carolina. He had four hits in Game 2 and seven in Game 1. On the third pair most of the season, he has played 17:27 and 18:37 of ice time the first two games of the series and toggled between the third pair and playing on the top pair with John Carlson.
“He's a guy that's showed I think everyone in this room kind of the way and how to be a pro on and off the ice,” forward Tom Wilson said. “He's the ultimate pro, he's friends with the 18 year old and everyone right across the board. He's just such a good guy. What he does on the ice speaks for itself. I wouldn't want to play against him.”
That’s what made it hard for Washington to trade Orpik at the NHL draft last year. His $5 million salary-cap hit was just too much at his age and with other, younger players due big raises, including Carlson, a free agent, and Wilson. Sent to Colorado with backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, Orpik was immediately bought out by the Avalanche and back on the open market. The Capitals brought Orpik back on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. They’re glad they did. So is he. At 38, you never know what the future holds.
“I think everybody tries to get to a different level at this time of year,” Orpik said. “I know me personally, at my age if I try to play at this level for the whole season, I'd be done halfway through the year. I hate to say I pace myself, but you've just got to play a little more conservatively -- especially at my age.”
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