Unlikely heroes provide spark in Penguins' victory
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — There's not much higher praise as a member of the Penguins than to get a congratulatory slap on the back from Mario Lemieux.
But when you finish off a series with an overtime goal in Game 6, as defenseman Brooks Orpik did Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, that's exactly the star treatment you get.
Orpik's slap shot, on assists from Tyler Kennedy and Evgeni Malkin, 7:49 into overtime finally ended the plucky team from Long Island's season and sent the Penguins to a second-round meeting with Ottawa.
“I think we caught them a little bit tired,” Orpik said of the Islanders, indefatigable in the series up to that point.
“There was an extended shift there, we got a line change and they didn't.”
Orpik, playing in his 78th career playoff game, is a nine-year veteran who missed the first three games of this series with a lower-body injury.
He'd never scored a postseason goal and has only 11 goals in 631 regular-season games — none this season.
“It's been a long time between goals,” said Orpik, whose last goal came Nov. 21, 2011.
“I obviously do other things to help the team win. I'd much rather get one there than in the regular season when it doesn't really matter.”
With the 16,170 in Nassau Coliseum ready to head out into the streets of Long Island knowing their team would be playing a Game 7 against the best team in the Eastern Conference in less than 24 hours, Paul Martin halted the party.
Martin, a 32-year-old defenseman who, like Orpik, isn't known for his goal-scoring, ripped a slapper that ricocheted off the crossbar and into the Islanders' net to tie it, 3-3, at 14:44 of the third period.
The goal, Martin's first of the postseason, atoned for what had been an otherwise shoddy effort from him, Orpik and the entire Penguins' defense, save three second-period penalty kills.
On the Islanders' third goal, which many in the crowd thought would be the game-winner, Keith Aucoin had plenty of time to fire a pass to a wide-open Michael Grabner, who took a shot on what seemed to be an invisible goalie — because Tomas Vokoun was nowhere to be found.
The goal at the 2:20 mark of the third negated what the Penguins' penalty-kill, led by Martin, Orpik and Kris Letang, had done.
The Penguins took three silly penalties in a span of less than eight minutes — Brenden Morrow's boarding infraction, Matt Cooke's interference call and a bench minor for too many men on the ice only 24 seconds after Cooke's penalty expired.
But with the Coliseum rocking, and the fans in all their full rally stick-waving glory, the Islanders did what they've done most of this series — they failed on the power play.
The Penguins easily squashed all three power plays to get their kill percentage to 90 percent for the series.
The Islanders, who fought valiantly in all six games, had six shots in six power-play minutes, and none was much of a threat.
“We respected them all series,” Orpik said.
“They definitely gave us everything we could handle.”
Chris Mascaro is a freelance writer.