PITTSBURGH (AP) Brooks Orpik was trying to be physical. Yet the instant the Washington Capitals defenseman made contact with Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta's head early in Game 2 on Saturday night, Orpik knew he had crossed a sometimes vague line between aggressive and illegal.
The NHL suspended Orpik three games for what director of player safety Patrick Burke described the hit as ''forceful, unacceptably high and excessively late.''
Looking back, Orpik can't help but agree.
''It was a bad hit,'' Orpik said Monday. ''It was intended to be a hard hit, definitely not at his head but I don't think there is anything that you can argue that it was definitely late. I think that was pretty black and white.''
Orpik is out until at least Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals or the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals if the Capitals should take the next three contests in the ultra-competitive best-of-seven series with the Penguins, which is even at 1-1 heading into Monday night's Game 3 in Pittsburgh. The outlook for the 21-year-old Maatta is murkier. Coach Mike Sullivan ruled Maatta out for at least Game 3 but didn't close the door on Maatta possibly returning at some point.
Either way, Orpik will be forced to watch the top seed in the East forge ahead following an uncharacteristic mistake. While Orpik has spent the majority of his 13-year career willingly throwing his 6-foot-2, 221-pound frame around, he's largely done it smartly. Not in this case, and Orpik knows it.
''I think we made a point before the game and before the series to be hard on their guys, especially their defensemen,'' Orpik said. ''That's what I tried to do and made a pretty bad mistake with how late it was. That's about all I got.''
Maatta was clearly dazed while being helped off the ice by teammates. It's unclear who will take his spot in the lineup, though veteran Justin Schultz appears to be the most likely candidate. Taylor Chorney is expected to fill in for Orpik.
While Orpik is at peace with the discipline, Washington head coach Barry Trotz is not. Trotz took exception with the length of the suspension and didn't mince words as to why.
''I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised based on who we're playing and all that,'' Trotz said.
When asked to clarify, Trotz offered only ''take it for whatever you want.''
Orpik stressed his intent was not to go after Maatta's head. Orpik missed the final three games of Washington's first-round win over Philadelphia after getting crunched along the boards in Game 3.
''I was in a similar spot two weeks ago, so it's tough hearing people try to say I was intentionally trying to hit him in the head,'' Orpik said. ''I've dealt with enough head and neck issues to know that was tough to watch.''