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Starkey: 'Bruce' Orpik is just getting started

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Brooks Orpik checks the Senators' Sergei Gonchar during the second period on Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

What a beautifully contentious Game 1 it was for Brooks (Don't Call Me Bruce) Orpik. I'll get to the “Bruce” part in a minute.

Vintage is another word that springs to mind. Clearly, Orpik's body has allowed him to ramp it up for Round 2, and that can only be a good thing for the Penguins.

“I think we always look to ‘Orps' for that boost,” Sidney Crosby said. “We've gotten used to him making those big hits. You need that in the playoffs.”

If Orpik wasn't detaining little Cory Conacher in the goal crease (and cross-checking him in the face), he was rope-a-doping Chris Neil, stifling Jakob Silfverberg's point-blank scoring chance or stepping up to attempt huge hits — one of which ended Eric Gryba's evening.

Even on his way out of the locker room, Orpik found conflict. A reporter addressed him with a word that sounded suspiciously like “Bruce.”

“Brooks,” Orpik countered.

“Bruce,” the reporter repeated.

“Brooks,” Orpik replied, testily.

Rest assured, the Senators didn't have any trouble identifying the guy wearing No. 44 for the Penguins. Orpik was Bruce Almighty on this night, logging a team-high 24:03 of ice time and helping to kill six penalties.

Still sporting his highly intense game face, Orpik stopped to answer questions on his way to the showers (this was before the “Bruce” guy came along).

As always, the answers were laced with brutal honesty:

How different is this series compared to Round 1?

“I think it's a better matchup for us than the Islanders were,” Orpik said. “Everyone kept alluding to how bad we were playing against them and the mistakes we were making. I think they, for whatever reason, just presented a tough matchup.”

Who got the better of that second-period collision between Orpik and Gryba? Orpik went down first. But he also got up first.

“I think I got the best,” Orpik said. “I don't think he came back in the game.”

Indeed, Gryba, who was concussed in the Montreal series, left with an “upper-body injury.” Orpik wasn't looking to take him out. It was a clean hit.

But in the playoffs, there is no remorse.

“He had his head down,” Orpik said. “I tried to hit him as square as I could. I think I went right through his body. I think maybe he got part of the impact in the head, which is unfortunate. That's one of those things where you're just trying to play hard.

“This time of year, if the guy misses a couple of games, it's probably good for our team. On the flip side, you hope he's not too badly injured.”

Orpik was injured — “lower-body” — late in the regular season and missed the first three games of the Islanders series. He returned in time to score the Penguins' most unlikely playoff goal since Darius Kasparaitis more than a decade earlier.

Now, he appears to be back in form, if not perfect health. He told me about a month ago that if he played the way he wanted to play every night, he wouldn't last a month.

It's playoffs now. He will play as he pleases.

“I hate to say this, 'cause fans pay good money,” Orpik said, “but you do have to pace yourself during the regular season, physically, or you won't even be playing this time of year.”

Orpik finally cracked a smile when I asked if he's close to “a hundred percent.”

“I haven't been a hundred percent in 10 years,” he said. “I don't even know what a hundred percent is anymore. But I don't have any complaints. If you can get out there and skate, that's good enough this time of year.”

You could ask Marian Hossa from the 2009 Cup final or Steven Stamkos from 2011: Orpik often makes his mark early in a series.

Brian Engblom, on NBC, described the Gryba hit this way: “Gryba had his head down trying to control the puck. He thought he'd make a nice little move. He hasn't seen enough of Brooks Orpik, I guess ... but by now he has.”

All the Senators have, and we're only one game in.

Ol' Bruce is just getting started.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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