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Orpik's OT goal gives Penguins series victory

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are built to win the Stanley Cup. They took another step toward their goal Saturday night.

Brooks Orpik scored 7:49 into overtime to give the Penguins a series-clinching 4-3 win against the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Orpik's slap shot from just inside the blue line was the defenseman's first goal in 106 games. Evgeni Malkin gathered the puck behind the Islanders net and passed to Tyler Kennedy near the goal line. Kennedy fed Orpik at the left point and his long shot beat goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

"It's definitely a good feeling," Orpik said after scoring his first goal of the season. "There was a lot of traffic in front, so I just wanted to keep it short-side. [Tyler] made a great pass to just put it on the tape for me. I just tried to put it on net as hard as I could."

Top-seeded Pittsburgh trailed by one goal three times before finally getting past eighth-seeded New York. The Penguins are certainly relieved to be headed to the second round for the first time since 2010.

"We expected to win the series here," said Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis, who had five goals in the six games. "We've lost the last three [first-round series] we were in, and this one feels great.

"They're all going to be tough. They're all going to be hard. It's the way you stick with it, it's the way you battle. This one, [Jarome Iginla] said it best I think after Game 4: It could be the best thing that happened to us. Feel a little adversity and feel what it feels like to battle. This one feels awesome."

Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who was inserted into this series to start Game 5 instead of struggling Marc-Andre Fleury, made 35 saves for his second straight victory.

"We needed the win and we're glad we don't have to play them tomorrow," Vokoun said. "Give them a lot of credit. They played a great series and they played really hard. They're an up-and-coming good team. They gave us everything we could handle."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said, "To be thrown into the middle of a series and play the way [Vokoun] did, that's huge. Especially tonight, [when] they carried the play and had a lot of great chances. He was sturdy and solid for us."

The Penguins advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they will face the Ottawa Senators.

"They're playing good hockey; they're pretty similar [to the Islanders]," Crosby said. "They have some fast forwards, a lot of skill, a lot of speed. We're going to have to do a better job of keeping the puck out of our end and out of our net."

New York was competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007. Although the Islanders didn't get the result they were hoping for, there's a feeling the franchise is turning the corner. After years of being a draft-lottery team, the Islanders nearly took the top-seeded Penguins the distance.

"I think as an organization we gained some respect back," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "I was really happy to see the fans support us the way they did, and I hope this is just the start, just a stepping stone to next year."

Michael Grabner gave the Islanders their third lead 2:21 into the third period. With the teams at even strength, New York's Keith Aucoin intercepted Kris Letang's clearing attempt and sent a cross-ice feed to Grabner, who one-timed it from the right circle past Vokoun to make it 3-2.

But, again, Pittsburgh was able to respond, thanks to a brilliant play by Malkin. The center carried the puck into the zone against four defenders before sending a pass from behind the net to the point for Paul Martin, whose slap shot went off Islanders center Frans Nielsen past Nabokov to make it 3-3 with 5:16 left in regulation.

"Before the game, it's not uncommon to try and pick guys who might score in the game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don't think anyone had Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik.

"I know in every overtime, I always pick a guy in my brain who I think is going to score the game-winner. After the game, I said for sure it was [No.] 44 that I picked. But to get his first goal of the year and his first playoff goal, I don't think we thought it was coming from 44. But we'll take Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik stepping up for us and getting the win."

Islanders forward John Tavares scored first 5:36 into the game, his third goal of the series. With his team controlling the play down low, Tavares took a nice backhand feed from along the wall by Josh Bailey and ripped a wrister from the slot past Vokoun for a 1-0 lead.

"I really think we played with them," said Tavares, a finalist for the Hart Trophy. "At times, we really dictated the play and we were the better team for good points of this series. We outshot them again today. They capitalized and made the most of their opportunities when they were there more than we did. That's a team that's been through it more.

"No excuses for us … we wanted this as bad as they did. We're here for the first time. This was a chance to play in the playoffs, a chance to play for the Cup, and you don't take that for granted. We certainly know we have to come back well-prepared again next season. We've got a good idea of what brings us success on a consistent basis and we need more of that. We've got to keep pushing ourselves to get better. That's the only way we're going to achieve our ultimate goal."

Iginla tied the game, 1-1, at 7:39 of the first. Crosby took a pass from Martin and blew past defenseman Brian Strait, but Nabokov was able to deny Crosby's backhand opportunity. Iginla saw the loose puck in the crease and quickly swatted it home for his second goal of the playoffs.

It marked the fifth time in the series that the Penguins scored less than two-and-a-half minutes after an Islanders goal.

Colin McDonald regained New York's lead prior to the end of the first period with his second goal of the series with 37 seconds remaining. Following some strong work by Grabner behind the net against Martin, the puck squirted to Aucoin, who quickly sent a feed across the crease to McDonald, where he tapped it past Vokoun.

"It's a tough one," said Islanders captain Mark Streit, who can become an unrestricted free agent in July. "The team played really well. We improved a lot. We made it to the playoffs, but we lost against a pretty good hockey team. It's kind of tough to find the right words."

The Penguins tied it 2-2 with 9:01 remaining in the second period on Dupuis' fifth goal of the series. Joe Vitale raced into the Islanders' zone and snuck a feed past Strait that Dupuis quickly poked past Nabokov.

New York outshot Pittsburgh 16-6 in the second period and held a 28-13 edge after 40 minutes.

"That's a group that battles really hard," Orpik said of the Islanders. "They're obviously disappointed now, but they'll be a lot better for it in the years to come."

The Islanders left the Nassau Coliseum ice to a thunderous ovation from the crowd of 16,170. A fan base that was desperate for good times again had plenty to cheer about in 2012-13.

"We were minutes away from going to Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We've just got to build off it. I'm sure it's going to sting for a while, but you've got to be proud of the effort. It's a close-knit group in that room and that's why we were able to get where we needed to be -- to get ourselves in the playoffs."


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