The goal didn’t have quite the same importance as Mike Eruzione’s game-winning goal against the Soviets 30 years ago this month in the “Miracle on Ice” game. Nor did the atmosphere at Mellon Arena rival what took place in Lake Placid on Feb. 22, 1980.
Still, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
’s goal 4:51 into the third period on Sunday, Pittsburgh’s final contest before the National Hockey League takes a two-week hiatus to allow players to participate in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, evoked strong patriotic feelings during the Penguins’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators at Mellon Arena.
Orpik, who had gone 111 regular-season games since his last tally on Nov. 26, 2008, when he opened the scoring against the New York Islanders with a goal against Joey MacDonald in a 5-3 Pittsburgh victory, gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead with his goal against the Predators, and it brought a rousing ovation from Penguins fans.
As play resumed following Orpik’s tally, Pittsburgh fans began chanting “USA! USA! USA!” in a show of support for Orpik not only netting his first goal of the season, but also to recognize Orpik’s upcoming participation on the U.S. Olympic team beginning Tuesday night.
“I thought they were just chanting because he hadn’t scored a goal in (111 games),” head coach Dan Bylsma joked.
“That was pretty cool,” Orpik added. “I think Eats (Mark Eaton) might have gotten into it too on the bench. It was a good feeling. Obviously it didn’t last long enough though because they scored shortly after.”
Eaton would not take credit for participating in the chant.
“No, no,” Eaton laughed. “That was pretty cool by the fans. That was a big goal for us at the time.”
“(That) just makes sense to me what Pittsburgh fans are all about,” Bylsma said. “When we have guys struggling, they don’t come out and boo, they come out and cheer for them. We have Olympians going off and they look for a chance to get behind Brooksy. That is what our fans here in Pittsburgh are all about. It’s nice to see.”
It was also nice to see Orpik get what, for a while, looked as though was going to hold up as the game-winning goal.Sidney Crosby
began the play by winning a faceoff in the far circle back to Kris Letang
at the left point. Letang swiftly moved the biscuit to Orpik in the middle, and his one-timer, which appeared to be sailing wide to the right of the cage, deflected off the stick of Predators goaltender Dan Ellis and jumped into the back of the twine to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead.
“It was weird,” Orpik said. “It was along the ice. I thought it was going to hit the side of the net. He turned his stick over for whatever reason and deflected it up. I’ll take them whatever way I can get them.”
The Penguins certainly took the bounce, especially since it gave them another critical point in the standings, moving them within one point of the first-place New Jersey Devils in the Atlantic Division. It also allowed Orpik to pick up his 19th point of the season, tying his career high set last season.
Orpik said he isn’t surprised he was able to notch his first goal of the season because he felt it was coming soon after several near misses the past few games, including a play in the first period on Sunday when he re-directed a feed from Evgeni Malkin
just over the cage when he joined an offensive rush.
“The Islanders game (Feb. 10) I think I hit a couple post,” Orpik said. “Then, Geno gave me that one in the first period where I just kind of missed. It seemed like I was getting close.”
Now, Orpik, who ended his goalless drought on a day when he was the cover feature in the game program, gets to trade his black and gold in for red, white and blue the next two weeks as he represents the United States. He says he looks forward to the challenge of going head-to-head against players such as Crosby and Malkin during the Olympics.
“I have played against Sid and Geno in World Championships before,” Oprik said. “I think if anything it is something fun. It’s a fun rivalry with those guys. They are all competitive.”
When Orpik and his fellow Olympians return to action on March 2 against the Buffalo Sabres at Mellon Arena, they find themselves in a good spot heading into the final 20 games. He says with a little work, the Penguins will be in good shape as the stretch run turns into postseason play.
“We still have a couple of games against (New Jersey),” Orpik said. “To be honest, where we were in the standings, we are just trying to clean up our own game here and then let that other stuff take care of itself. … We could have caught Jersey there with their loss last night but we will get back from the break and clean up some of the areas from our game.”