Orpik OT goal lifts Penguins into Eastern Conference semifinals
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Penguins were looking at one and done.
They were maybe looking at being done in more ways than one, actually.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik scored in overtime — a seeing-eye shot through congestions — for a 4-3 win Saturday night over the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
Orpik had gone 111 games, including playoffs, without a goal.
“Any shot is a good shot in overtime,” Orpik said after his winner, which was set up by a pass from right winger Tyler Kennedy.
“I saw him, and his stick was so high, he was waiting for the shot,” Kennedy said. “I wasn't sure if he could get it through because there was a lot of traffic.”
Captain Sidney Crosby said it was fitting that Orpik, the longest-tenured Penguin, though never known for his shot, sent the Penguins into Round 2 against Ottawa.
A loss to the Islanders would have set up a decisive Game 7 on Sunday night at Consol Energy Center.
For most of Game 6 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal, the Penguins looked broken.
They lost puck races, battles along the boards and sight of Islanders forwards in the prime scoring real estate that coaches had implored Penguins to protect.
Coach Dan Bylsma conceded that his club's recent history — three straight playoff losses to lower-seeded opponents — was a factor in Game 6 and the series.
“We fought it a little bit,” Bylsma said. “One of our keys was, ‘Be excited to win, not talking about the past.'
“At times we didn't play like that, particularly the first half of the game.”
The Islanders ended with a 38-21 advantage in shots and won 60 percent of faceoffs. They blocked more shots, 23-18, and outhit the Penguins, 31-23.
Somehow — credit a penalty kill that was 3 for 3 in Game 6, 18 for 20 in the series — the Penguins stayed close.
Defenseman Paul Martin late in the third period matched an earlier goal by Islanders right winger Michael Grabner to pull the Penguins even and force overtime.
With the Islanders closing off scoring lanes in front, Penguins defensemen were activated to help offensively.
“That was big for (the) team,” center Evgeni Malkin said. “You need everybody to win in (the) playoffs. We know that.”
Instead of a potentially psyche-crippling loss, this “special team” — that is the term players have used at times over the past couple of months — avoided a short turnaround into an elimination game.
“Huge,” winger Pascal Dupuis said.
Especially, Crosby said, because the eighth-seeded Islanders were an equal of the favored Penguins in this series.
“That's a really good team,” Crosby said of the Islanders, who hadn't played in the postseason since 2007 but are led by a young group of skilled forwards, including MVP finalist John Tavares. “They're going to be in the playoffs for a while.”
A Game 7 could have shaped the future of the franchise, and a loss would have left the Penguins with one playoff series win since franchise players Crosby and Malkin led them to the Cup in 2009.
A lot was going to be on the line.
Only Crosby, linked to the franchise with a 12-year extension that kicks in next season, seemed guaranteed to be part of general manager Ray Shero's plan going forward had the Penguins lost this series.
That was the pressure a Game 7 would have provided.
“But it's not necessary,” defenseman Kris Letang said.
Players and coaches have said over the past two weeks that this opening round was about winning four games, not the Cup.
Bylsma reiterated that again Saturday night — after, of course, that elusive fourth win that was delivered by the player who has been around longest.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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