Brooks Orpik

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As Brooks Orpik was scoring his game-winner, Adam Eaton homered to help the Nationals beat the Pirates

As Brooks Orpik was scoring his game-winner, Adam Eaton homered to help the Nationals beat the Pirates

Call it coincidence if you want, but what happened Saturday afternoon was truly some D.C. sports magic.

In the overtime session of the Capitals' first round playoff game against the Carolina Hurricanes, defenseman Brooks Orpik scored a rocket of a goal to give Washington a 4-3 win and put them up two games to none in the series. 

Less than three miles away at Nationals Park and moments after Orpik's goal, Adam Eaton launched a solo home run into the right-center field seats to tie the Nationals' game against the Pirates at two in the bottom of the eighth inning.

And on the very next pitch, Howie Kendrick hit a homer of his own to give the Nats the lead. 

Sean Doolittle came in for the top of the ninth and earned the save, the Nats triumphing 3-2. 

Eaton said he heard the cheers from the Nats Park crowd as the news of Orpik's game-winner trickled  into the stadium. 

“I heard that," Eaton told reporters. "That’s pretty cool. First off, congratulations to them. They’re playing some really important games. We’re still in April … which every game’s important. But hat’s off to them."

In a matter of moments, the anxieties of an entire city turned into screams of jubilation. As our very own Todd Dybas put it, the simultaneous D.C. victories were like a "sports lightning bolt from the center of town down South Capitol Street."

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Deja vu all over again: Why Brooks Orpik's game-winner felt familiar

Deja vu all over again: Why Brooks Orpik's game-winner felt familiar

In what seemed like a game of deja vu on deja vu, the Washington Capitals’ final goal of Game 2 against the Carolina Hurricanes confirmed that we truly have seen lots of this before.
 
Brooks Orpik’s Game 2, game-winning goal in overtime confirmed that history would repeat itself. Orpik also had the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, though that time, the final score was 3-2.

Orpik has a history of game-winning goals, even before he played for the Caps. While he was a Pittsburgh Penguin, his overtime goal allowed the team to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 in overtime. This game-winning, slapshot goal was his first of the season, and man, was it important. 

Don’t sleep on Brooks “Secret Weapon” Orpik in the playoffs, folks. Saturday afternoon – and in past games and even for a past team – he was the unlikely hero. 

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How Brooks Orpik’s 1000th game reflects his evolution as a player

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How Brooks Orpik’s 1000th game reflects his evolution as a player

For one night, Brooks Orpik will have to deal with something he absolutely hates. As the Capitals take the ice Monday to play the St. Louis Blues (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington), it will be the 1,000th game of Orpik’s NHL career. That means for one night Orpik will be the center of attention.

“I’m not one for surprise parties or anything individual, a lot of attention,” Orpik said. “That doesn’t really go with my personality, but I know for one day I’m just going to have to suck it up and deal with it. But it is something pretty cool.”

Orpik’s 1000th career game was supposed to come in November, but a knee injury forced him to miss 27 games delaying the milestone.

There are many who did not believe Orpik would ever get to this point given his style of play. While many players rave about Orpik’s leadership in the locker room, he has remained a relevant player in today’s NHL by adapting his play.

As primarily a physical, stay-at-home defenseman, Orpik seems better suited for the more physical style of play the NHL has seen in past years. As the game continues to get faster, there are some who wonder if there is still room for a player like Orpik.

“He's a little bit of a dinosaur because he hits,” Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said. “And there isn't a lot of hitting in this game. I love the way he plays.”

To continue playing professionally at a high level at the age of 38 takes some work. While many see a player playing an outdated style of play, Orpik has put a lot of work into adapting his game to today’s NHL.

“If you don't adapt to where the league's going, then you're pushed out whether you're a player or a coach,” Orpik said.

“You've got to give him credit being 38 years old, he's going to approach his 1000th game,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “The defensive defenseman, people just don't like those players anymore because the new hockey, but he's stayed relevant in it.”

Orpik has changed the way he trains to focus more on skating and agility than strength and weight training. He approaches the game differently than in past years when he had a hit-first mentality.

“[Orpik] was taking himself out of the play too often,” Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said, “And the skill level of the majority of the forwards has increased so much in the NHL that any time you chase yourself out of position to go for big hits, all that area of ice behind you is used. So those were some things we changed when we initially met each other. Let's pick our spots for some hits -- his hit numbers have gone down -- using his stick to be able to defend a little bit more, and that has allowed him to still have the physical element when he needed to around the net front against some of the skill guys. That allowed him to start playing against some better players in the league.”

Orpik played a major part in Washington’s run to the Stanley Cup last season and even scored the first Stanley Cup Final game-winning goal in franchise history. He was considered important enough to the team that they actually re-signed him over the summer after trading away his contract to Colorado. The Avalanche bought him out of the rest of the contract which made him available as a free agent.

But, at 38 years old and on a one-year contract, one has to wonder what his future may be.

Could this season be Orpik’s swan song?

Orpik was asked if he would take a year-to-year approach for the rest of his career. While Nic Dowd yelled over the scrum that Orpik would play until he’s 45, Orpik wasn’t so sure.

“I think I’m day-to-day, honestly,” he said. “There’s some days you feel good, some days you don’t. I don’t know.”

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