PITTSBURGH - In less than 24 hours, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik has gone from being a hard-working, but nondescript player to local folk hero.
His shift – which is now referred to, not surprisingly, as ‘The Shift’ – in the third period, in which he registered five significant hits (OK, the last one was a bit of a softy, but his legs were probably spent by then) was the talk of the day at the media availability Thursday morning.
The soft-spoken and deadly serious Orpik took things in stride.
“It’s weird, against a team like this, you’ve got to be pretty patient,” Orpik said. “Their forwards have so much skill and speed, you don’t want to run out of position, especially with the system we play. Most of the hitting comes from our defensemen in our zone. We don’t take a lot of chances in the neutral zone and most of the hits kind of come to you; you don’t really go looking for them.”
That being the case, the stars appeared to be aligned on ‘The Shift’ because Orpik was a one-man wrecking crew.
“In a one-goal game it is hard to say what kind of an effect I had on the outcome, but it certainly caught the fans’ attention,” said Orpik.
He received a standing ovation when he left the ice.
“You feel it when you’re out there,” he said. “The crowd was a big part of the night right from the start of the game. I think any time you get the crowd into the game you can build off that.”
• Coaches can be funny, yet strange guys. I recall, after the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup with Pat Burns behind the bench, speaking to a player on the Devils who said, “We’re in big trouble next year. For some reason Pat is great when we lose, but he’s hard on us when we win.”
The same may be said about Detroit’s Mike Babcock. He was decidedly surly after winning Game 1, but following the loss in Game 3 was personable and quite humorous. It’s almost as if coaches don’t want their players to coast when they win, so they crack the whip, and they don’t want them to be too nervous following a loss, so they ease up on the gas pedal.
Asked if coaching the high octane Red Wings is like driving a Ferrari, Babcock offered: “It’s interesting you say that now. When people don’t pick us to be any good at the start of each and every year for the past three years, I wonder if that’s the case. I think it’s easy to call us a Ferrari or Pittsburgh a Ferrari now, because we’re still playing. I think there were others teams, like San Jose and Anaheim and the Rangers that were picked to be good teams. So I guess you’ve got to have a good mechanic to keep going.”
He then added: “People talk about this Ferrari. No one knew who (Johan) Franzen was a year and a half ago. Or even Dan Cleary, except if things didn’t go well. Or Valtteri Filppula or Jiri Hudler. Or a guy like Brad Stuart comes here (and is successful) and suddenly, who is Niklas Kronwall?”
Babcock makes a good point. Then again, the emergence of Pavel Datsyuk as a bona fide playoff star hasn’t hurt, either.
• Score one for the Red Wings on the first of two off days prior to Game 4. At the media availability Thursday morning, Detroit paraded out coach Mike Babcock as well as players Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood.
The Penguins countered with coach Michel Therrien and players Adam Hall, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney and Maxime Talbot. There was definitely some value in including Hall, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 3, but where the heck was Sidney Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury?
Many members of the media, hoping to get more significant players, were obviously quite miffed. The problem with the whole scenario is that it is the Penguins’ public relations staff that takes the hit and that is not fair. The decision on which players are made available to the media comes from above and is not the doing of the Pens’ hard-working P.R. staff.
• According to hockey analyst Pierre McGuire, the numbers for Game 3 on NBC greatly exceeded Game 3 from a year ago, up 93 percent. Last year, Game 3 drew a 1.5 share and this year it was 2.9. Also, the game drew a 33 share in Pittsburgh, which exceeds Super Bowl numbers.