COLUMBUS, Ohio - Brooks Orpik doesn't score many goals. He only scores them when they matter.
Orpik, who ended the first-round series last season against the New York Islanders with an overtime goal in Game 6, might have triggered another Penguins series victory with a dramatic goal that altered the course of a 4-3 victory in Game 3 against Columbus.
“It was a huge moment,” center Joe Vitale said. “We needed something from somebody. That was it.”
The only thing more impressive than Orpik's timing was the skill he displayed. One of the game's strongest defensive defensemen for more than a decade, Orpik entered the game with 13 career goals in 703 career regular-season games.
He never has scored anything like the one he produced against Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Time was ticking down in the second period — and maybe on the Penguins —when right wing Beau Bennett raced into Columbus territory. The Penguins were down 2-0 thanks to a Blue Jackets' ambush in the game's first four minutes.
After seeing no forwards open, Bennett was forced to deliver the puck toward the left point, where Orpik was waiting.
The pass was behind Orpik, which prohibited him from firing an immediate shot.
Instead of collecting the puck and quickly shooting, which would have been understandable for any player given that time was ticking down, let alone one of limited offensive ability, Orpik coolly waited for forward Cam Atkinson to drop to the ice, attempting to block a shot.
Orpik then executed a toe-drag around Atkinson before firing a puck past Bobrovsky's blocker side. Just 1.7 seconds remained when the goal was scored.
“I knew it was close,” Orpik said. “I didn't know how much.”
The Penguins didn't know Orpik was capable of such a play.
“I saw a toe-drag and couldn't believe it was No. 44,” center Joe Vitale said.
Largely thanks to Orpik's goal, the Penguins entered the third period with confidence. Orpik said the Penguins were “pretty confident” and “playing the right way” through two periods.
That confidence only grew after his goal.
“You could feel the momentum change,” said forward Jussi Jokinen, who was credited with the game-winner. “Even though they got a lucky bounce in the third period (on Atkinson's goal), what Brooks did got us going.”
The Penguins looked rattled early and were swamped in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Many of their stars — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang — are without a goal in this series.
The player who has been one of their leaders for so long took matters into his own hands.
“Everyone in this room is very happy for him,” Vitale said. “He's been one of our leaders for a long, long time. He is so dedicated. He just works so hard all the time. He's a great leader. Always has been. Good for him.”
Good for the Penguins, too.
“Never saw a toe-drag from Brooks before,” Jokinen said. “That was fun.”
(Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.)