“He’s a resilient individual,” Green said. “He really showed his character tonight with playing, period. To play as many minutes as he did, be as competitive as he did, that shows what type of guy and what type of player he is.”
Orpik was his typical self, gobbling up a team-high 24 minutes 44 seconds of total ice time, helping kill three of four Blackhawks power plays, recording three hits, blocking three shots and earning more praise from a coach who sang Orpik’s virtues all December.
Wednesday, while the Capitals practiced at Nationals Park, Orpik skated with relative anonymity at the team’s facility in Ballston. At the time, the training staff classified him at 50-50, Coach Barry Trotz said. That night, the percentage he could play ratcheted up to 75, then the next morning, the trainers called it 85-15. Trotz had thrust the onus for deciding into Orpik’s hands, trusting the supremely health-conscious veteran to read his body. Before warmups, Trotz approached Orpik and asked the big question.
“How are you feeling?” Trotz asked.
“Unless something happens,” Orpik replied, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to go.”
Later, Orpik reaffirmed his choice with no hesitation.
“Injury just wanted to make sure it wasn’t’ something that could get any worse,” he said. “Trainers did a really good job giving me a lot of time the last couple of days. That was really nice of them. Wanted to test it out today. Once you see the environment, it’s tough to turn down.”
Even for his fourth outdoor game, tied for most in the NHL, Orpik found something new in the victory. A big San Francisco Giants fan, he had never played in a baseball park, and liked that the fans felt closer than inside football stadiums.
His teammates, meanwhile, found inspiration in the juxtaposition between their top-pairing defenseman writhing on the Long Island ice, holding his knee in pain, and starting the 2015 Winter Classic.
“He’s a professional, a warrior, those types of things,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He’s so in tune with what he can do physically. He’d know if he could go or not. He wasn’t going to be selfish just to play. He did a fantastic job. I don’t know how he felt, but he looked like he was himself and was really, really effective. Moved well and was physical, the penalty kill was outstanding. Big boost for us. He’s played really, really well, like our team, especially like the past six weeks. He’s been rock-solid.”
With a scheduled off-day Friday and a practice day Saturday before the Florida Panthers come to Verizon Center, Orpik seemed grateful for the extra time to rest his knee. Asked whether he felt any soreness or lingering pain, Orpik replied, “It’ll keep getting a little better. Take a while. But I think the schedule’s in our favor in that regard.”