Ron Cook: Orpik puts new spin on big goals



COLUMBUS, Ohio -- You expect the terrific spin move from Sidney Crosby, the great patience to drag the puck around a defender from Evgeni Malkin, the wicked wrist shot from James Neal.

But all of it from Brooks Orpik on one game-changing play?

"Obviously, I'm not known for that," Orpik said.

If you missed it Monday night, shame on you.

The Penguins were all but dead and nearly buried in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets as the final seconds of the second period ticked away at Nationwide Arena. They trailed, 2-0, and had gone more than 103 minutes without putting a puck by Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who had stopped 53 consecutive shots going back to late in the first period of Game 2. He might not have looked like Ken Dryden, but he surely did look unbeatable.

Good thing for the Penguins that Bobrovsky was no match for Orpik.

Orpik's goal with 1.8 seconds left in the second period didn't win the game for the Penguins, but it's fair to say they wouldn't have beaten the Blue Jackets without it. They jumped on Bobrovsky for third-period goals by Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jussi Jokinen -- all in a span of 2:13 -- to win, 4-3, to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

"A spin-a-rama, toe-drag goal from Brooks Orpik," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma marveled. "You never know where you're going to get the big goal from."

If you listed the Penguins' 18 skaters in order of most likely to score a momentum-changing goal, Orpik would rank no higher than tied for 17th with fellow defenseman Rob Scuderi. He had just two goals in 72 games this season, 13 in his 703-game NHL career. He had scored just one goal in his previous 88 playoff games.

In other words, Orpik had virtually no chance to be the offensive hero. He especially had little chance to score a magnificent goal that had even Mario Lemieux beaming afterward in the locker room. Of course, Lemieux knows a little something about pretty postseason goals.

"Great goal," Lemieux said. "The timing was pretty good, wasn't it?"

The timing had everything to do with the goal, Orpik said. He knew he could take a chance with the puck because, even if he turned it over, the Blue Jackets would have no time to do anything with it.

"A lot of guys have the talent to do stuff like that," Orpik said. "But as a defenseman, you're the last guy back. I'm always a little hesitant with the puck for that reason. Not all defenseman are, but I am. But I knew even if [Columbus winger Cam Atkinson] poked it from me, he couldn't do anything with it."

The half-spin move Orpik did after taking a pass from teammate Beau Bennett was exquisite. The patience he showed to drag the puck around Atkinson after Atkinson went down to block his shot was extraordinary. The wrist shot that beat Bobrovsky was spot on and absolutely, well ...

Lemieux-like.

"I didn't see it, but they tell me it was pretty nice," Crosby said, grinning.

Orpik saved the Penguins in yet another game in which their brightest stars failed to get a goal and their power play went 0 for 6. Chris Kunitz and Crosby got assists on Stempniak's goal, which tied things, 3-3, with 12:57 left. Malkin got the second assist on Jokinen's winning goal with 11:54 to go. Neal was held without a point for the third consecutive game.

It really was a good thing that Orpik stepped up.

Orpik's other playoff goal might have been even bigger. He ended a first-round series against the New York Islanders a year ago with an overtime goal in Game 6 on Long Island. But that was a slap shot through traffic. It was largely pure luck. This one was much prettier, much more impressive. This was a goal-scorer's goal by a guy who absolutely isn't known for scoring 'em.

"I thought it was huge," Bylsma said. "We knew we had to get that first one. It was nice to Brooks to get it."

"The timing was good," Orpik said. "It felt good individually and from a team standpoint. But I'm a guy who's just as happy when someone else scores them. It's all about the team at this point. It's all about winning games. We're going to need a lot of guys to get it done."

This was Orpik's night.

Lemieux was among the many to shake his hand.

It's not something you see every day, a Hall of Famer and one of the NHL's all-time great goal scorers congratulating a stay-at-home defenseman on a big goal in a playoff game.

"That," Lemieux said, "was fun."

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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