Orpik hit launches Penguins to win over Blackhawks at Consol
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Brooks Orpik wants to win.
If that means losing a popularity contest with opponents — or sometimes teammates — so be it.
The Penguins are winning again, and Orpik is the biggest reason why.
“Absolutely,” fellow defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said Sunday night after the Penguins' 4-1 win over the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks at Consol Energy Center.
“He's a consummate pro. He's a calming influence in our room, just says the right things when things need to be said. Things were going tough for us there, and he obviously figured that we needed to address some things.
“And then he has just backed it up with his play.”
Orpik challenged teammates to perform with more disciplined play after a home loss to Phoenix on Tuesday night. He was miffed by a trend of retaliatory penalties, including three in the offensive zone that night.
The loss against Phoenix was one of three in a row — all at home — by the Penguins.
They have now won two in a row, both against potential Stanley Cup playoff clubs (Columbus, Chicago).
Orpik has dished out a team-best nine hits in those victories.
The one with which he leveled Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in the second period will leave a mark — on Chicago and on Orpik's Penguins legacy.
With Toews near the boards and having just moved the puck, Orpik delivered a shoulder-to-shoulder blow without leaving his feet at the point of contact. No penalty was assessed. All hits are reviewed by NHL Player Safety and subject to supplemental discipline.
Toews, the Blackhawks' third-leading scorer, favored his left arm and did not return. He is day-to-day, the Blackhawks said.
“There's no penalty,” Orpik said. “I think that hit happens 10 times in a game.”
Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa, who witnessed then-teammate Orpik's famous “free candy” Blitzkrieg of several Detroit skaters in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, said, “I know him as a fair guy. Obviously, some calls are tougher than others. Sometimes he's on the borderline.”
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, second only to Orpik in terms of franchise tenure among current players, said he is glad to be on the side of the line where Orpik stands.
“He's been something solid for us, and this (past) week he's been really good,” Fleury said. “He's been around for a long time. He knows the game well. It's good to have somebody like him.
“The thing I love about watching him play is all those hits.”
Fleury, who made 25 saves to move within four wins of his second 40-victory season, said he also loves watching captain Sidney Crosby score.
That had never happened for Crosby against Chicago before the third period on Sunday night.
Clinging to a 2-1 lead and with the Blackhawks, as winger James Neal said, “hemming us in our zone for, like, five shifts in a row,” the Penguins received a couple of insurance goals from Crosby.
His first finished a 2-on-1 with about five minutes remaining. His second, into an empty net in the final minute, pushed Crosby's goal total to 36.
He is within a point of a fifth 100-point season.
Crosby's first goal and opening-period markers by Neal (24) and Lee Stempniak (11) were all based off transition offense — something the Penguins have relied on this season because their once-elite puck possession has dipped.
Injuries — the Penguins are at 471 man-games lost — have not helped in that regard.
Also, a new neutral-zone based defensive system is designed to create more transition opportunities. That is something coach Dan Bylsma believed the Penguins needed after they scored only twice in being swept from the conference final by Boston last postseason.
The Penguins (48-22-5, 101 points) can clinch the Metropolitan Division with a win against Carolina at home on Tuesday night. That will give them at least the second seed in the East for the playoffs.
Orpik, first with words and then with action, gave them some life this past week.
“Just trying to stay positive,” Orpik said. “There was a lot of negativity outside the locker room. I just wanted to make sure that didn't creep in.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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