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Capitals' Orpik happy for another chance

Washington defenseman will return to lineup for Game 6 after serving suspension

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Brooks Orpik spent 11 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and won the Stanley Cup with them in 2009. But the Washington Capitals defenseman has an idea about what's coming for him when he steps on the ice for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I'm sure I'll get a great reception from the fans there," Orpik said sarcastically Monday.

Orpik understands why he's not the most popular person in Pittsburgh right now, despite his history there. He's returning from a three-game suspension for a hit on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta in Game 2 of the best-of-7 series. 

Maatta sustained an upper-body injury and has not played since, so Penguins fans will be sure to let Orpik know their feelings about that.

"It's just expected I think," he said.

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm1: Orpik stands up VandeVelde in the 2nd

At this point, Orpik is grateful he'll have the opportunity to be booed, jeered or whatever else Penguins fans choose to do. After the Capitals lost Games 3 and 4 without him to fall in a 3-1 hole in the series, Orpik wondered if his season would end with him watching from the press box while serving out his suspension.

"It's obviously been frustrating," he said. "Nothing I can do about it; just watch."

Orpik was in a similar position two years ago when an injury forced him to be a spectator while the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers in the second round. Having his season end that way was difficult, but injuries usually are out of the player's control.

But this time it would have been worse because Orpik's time in the press box was no one's fault but his own. Orpik labeled his hit on Maatta "a bad decision" and said the three-game suspension he received from the NHL Department of Player Safety was fair.

He didn't ask anyone to feel sorry for him. All he could do was hope his teammates would give him a chance to redeem himself. 

"If I was in that situation I'd probably be a little bit nervous," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "With the way that Game 3 and Game 4 went, you're nervous that you might not get another chance to play. So I'm sure he was holding his breath for a bit."

Video: WSH@ANA: Orpik lays a big cehck on Garbutt

Orpik was when he watched Game 5 at Verizon Center on Saturday. The Capitals stayed alive with a 3-1 win. Now Orpik has new life too.

"It's a lot more nerve-wracking up there too when you've got to watch instead of playing," he said. "When you play you just kind of play and have fun with it. When you watch you get pretty nervous. So it will be good to be back out there [Tuesday]."

Orpik, 35, mentioned a discussion among the Capitals players Monday morning about an incident two years ago that involved forward T.J. Oshie when he was with the St. Louis Blues. Orpik wouldn't reveal the name of the player involved but such things are easy to look up these days. 

Mike Rupp, a former teammate of Orpik's with the Penguins, was suspended four games for an illegal check to the head on Oshie while playing for the Minnesota Wild in the second-to-last game of the 2013-14 season. Although Rupp was eligible to return after the Wild's third playoff game, he never got back in the lineup and retired after that season.

"It was the guy's last game of his career because he got suspended," Orpik said. "So that's always a tough way to go out. It definitely crossed my mind, but it's in the past now and [you] just kind of move forward, and hopefully play well [Tuesday]."

The Capitals are happy to have Orpik back. His return solidifies their top-four on defense again as he slots into his usual spot alongside John Carlson and pushes Dmitry Orlov to the third pair.

Video: MIN@WSH: Orpik rifles in a shot from the right circle

Orpik's size (6-foot-2, 221 pounds) and physical presence in the defensive zone will be welcomed. 

"He is as strong as an ox, and yes he's a big body," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He makes it difficult for forwards to get in the interior. That's his bread and butter in that area around the net, and a goalie's best friend."

Orpik also is a leader for the Capitals as one of their alternate captains. Facing elimination again, his calming presence on the ice and on the bench could prove invaluable.

"His leadership is one of his biggest values to our group," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "That calmness in tense situations and ability to bring your best game to the table is what he's able to bring, especially to the young guys."

By coincidence, Maatta practiced with the Penguins on Monday and could play Tuesday. Orpik said he's grateful for that as well.  

He has expressed nothing but remorse about his hit on his former teammate.

"He's a good friend of mine. I don't think that will change," Orpik said. "I've talked to him since. I don't think it makes you feel any better about what happened, but it's good to see him back on the ice."

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