Veteran Orpik gets his moment as Capitals claw back in Game 2

Lars Eller had a goal and two assists as the Washington Capitals beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 to even the Stanley Cup Final at 1-1.

LAS VEGAS — Brooks Orpik had played 220 games without scoring a goal. Nearly two and a half years, the longest active goal drought in the NHL and it’s not even close.

The last time the stay-at-home defenceman lit the lamp, on Feb. 26, 2016, Vegas was months away from being awarded a franchise, and the Golden Knights were just a glint in Bill Foley’s eye.

To locate Orpik’s last playoff goal, you’d have to scan back more than four years.

Heck, in the past seven games, Orpik hadn’t even registered a shot on net.

“The chances of me scoring in the finals here aren’t very good,” the player said on media day.

So when Vancouver-based Finnish NHL correspondent and noted karaoke enthusiast Tommi Seppälä drew Orpik’s name in media row’s game-winning goal pool, a Stanley Cup Final tradition that dates back to the 1980s, his odds of winning the $720 were about as strong as his odds of now spending that stack on something healthy to drink.

It would be more useful, one member of the Washington media suggested, for Seppälä to use the $20 bill he’d invested in Orpik as toilet paper.

Instead of grumbling, however, Seppälä channeled the power of positive thought. He began predicting that tonight would belong to Orpik. Hot take. Scorching result.

Midway through Game 2, with the Washington Capitals leading 2-1, Orpik joined a Lars Eller–led rush up the ice, accepted a beautiful pass from the evening’s best offensive player, and whipped a wrister that redirected off Alex Tuch’s elbow, took a member’s bounce off the soft ice and beat Marc-Andre Fleury.

“As soon as he jumped in the play, two or three seconds before he took the shot, I just knew,” said Seppälä in his second language, riding a wave. “Sick. Just sick.”

The Capitals’ bench lit up like one of the Vegas pre-game archers had torched it with a flaming arrow.

“I haven’t yelled that loud for someone to score a goal since Ovie scored one of his milestones,” T.J. Oshie said. “Ears are still ringing.”

When the Golden Knights struck back late in the second period, narrowing the final score to 3-2 Caps, the game-winning goal honours shifted to Orpik from Alex Ovechkin, who had only scored 116 times during the Orpik drought, per ESPN’s Emily Kaplan.

“All the bench was pumped,” Ovechkin said. “He’s a guy who always plays hard, get a hit, take a hit, blocking shots.”

There’s something poetic about a guy who never gets his moment in the spotlight not being able to bask in it. Orpik himself was unavailable to speak post-game because he was getting stitched up.

The 217-pound 37-year-old had delivered the last of his game-high six hits right at the buzzer and got cut in the middle of a scrum of his own making. So, the team-first guy’s special night must be illustrated through the words of his teammates.

Jay Beagle calls him a warrior. Nicklas Backstrom describes him as the Capitals’ backbone. Coach Barry Trotz says he’s “probably the most respected guy” on the team.

“Brooksie’s one of those guys. He’s old-school. You only get a handful of them,” Oshie says, “that you play with throughout your career. So to see him get rewarded with a goal at a big time, it makes me feel good, and I imagine he feels great.”

It’s no secret that Orpik can be a whipping boy for the fans. He’s a $5.5-million cap hit whose underlying numbers are, shall we say, less than kind.

“He takes a beating on that,” says Matt Niskanen. “I don’t think anybody in here gives a crap.”

On Wednesday, in addition to delivering the dagger in the Knights’ first regulation home loss in since March 28, Orpik had his first three-shot game in more than three months, blocked a pair of shots, and skated a game-high 3:59 shorthanded, including the entirety of a critical 69-second, 5-on-3 kill.

Orpik’s Corsi: 26.7 per cent. The Capitals’: 39 per cent.

“What was our Corsi tonight? And did it have any effect on the game?” says Niskanen. “I’ve hated that stat when mine is good. I’ve hated it when mine is bad. Whatever.”

GM Brian MacLellan believes Orpik has provided the Capitals with everything they wanted since he signed such a juicy deal as a free agent.

“When you’re that age and you get one more shot at it, it gives you a little boost, a little shot of adrenaline, and I think he’s taken full advantage of it,” MacLellan says. “There’s only one Stanley Cup winner on each team, Fleury and him. I think that speaks loudly for what he is.”

Culturally, Orpik is the Capitals are, Trotz argues.

Even after the heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh (again) last spring, the defenceman never scrambled for an excuse. Orpik went right back to punching the clock and was instrumental in setting the proper tone for the wave of cap-friendly rookies large salaries like his necessitated.

“He’s like a father figure in our room. The players look up to him,” Trotz says.

“I don’t think there’s a guy in our room, if Brooks sort of pulls you aside and says, ‘You know what, maybe we shouldn’t do that or stop feeling sorry for yourself,’ guys really, really take that to heart.”

As the Stanley Cup Final That Was Never Meant to Be shifts to D.C. as a best-of-five, your game winners have come courtesy of Tomas Nosek and Brooks freakin’ Orpik.

Long shots sometimes do pay off in this town.

“How the [heck] did that happen? Crazy,” says Seppälä, still shaking his head. “He was the last guy who should score.”

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