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Brooks Orpik suspended three games for interference on Olli Maatta

Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik’s high hit on Olli Maatta in Game’s 2 first period. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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PITTSBURGH – Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik has been suspended three games for interference on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced Sunday evening.

In the first period of Game 2 of the teams’ second-round Stanley Cup playoff series on Saturday, Orpik’s high hit on Maatta, who didn’t have the puck at the time, resulted in Maatta being helped off the ice by his teammates. Maatta didn’t return to the game. Orpik was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for interference. A suspension involving three playoff games is considered to be a harsh one.

In the Department of Player Safety’s explanation of the suspension, there is emphasis on the fact that Maatta was not eligible to be checked on the play because he was no longer in possession of the puck. A full second passed from the time Maatta released his shot to when Orpik hit him. “This hit is forceful, unacceptably high and excessively late,” the Department of Player Safety’s Patrick Burke said in the video. This is Orpik’s third suspension of his career.

“I thought it was a late hit. I thought it was a target to his head,” Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan said after the game. “It’s the type of hit that everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

Sullivan told reporters on Sunday that he doesn’t have an update on Maatta, but he’s “not optimistic” for his Game 3 availability. Capitals Coach Barry Trotz wasn’t made available to the media on Sunday, but on Saturday night he said he spoke to Orpik about what happened. Orpik wasn’t made available to the media on Saturday or Sunday.

“The play happens, there’s a shot and rebound, and Brooks thought it was coming back to Maatta,” Trotz said. “Then he hits him and the puck’s not there, but his intention, with the way the puck was shot, it looked like there was a rebound and he thought it was coming back over there. He just finished on the hit and there’s a little size difference, and I think Maatta was leaning over a bit.

“I’ll let the league handle it. If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard and he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player. The Pittsburgh people know that. He plays the game hard and the right way. Whatever the league decides, we’ll just deal.”

Said Capitals forward Marcus Johansson: “Orpy’s an honest hockey player. He plays tough and hard and honest, I think. You know, sometimes stuff happens, I guess.”

The Capitals have played plenty of games without Orpik this season. He was out for 40 games with an undisclosed lower-body injury during the regular season, and then in the playoffs he missed three games in Washington’s first-round series because of an upper-body injury he suffered in Game 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers. The solution on defense was to pair John Carlson with Nate Schmidt, which left a third pair of Taylor Chorney and Dmitry Orlov.

A stay-at-home and physical defenseman, Orpik typically plays with Carlson as a defensive duo that can match up with an opponent’s top lines, but he’s also a top penalty killer for the Capitals. Washington has shined when shorthanded, allowing just one power-play goal in the postseason in 31 times shorthanded. One of the bigger players on the team, Orpik can help clear space in front of the net for goaltender Braden Holtby.

Even before Orpik’s suspension was announced, the Capitals were figuring out how to manage without him.

“We’ve got guys who can fill his role,” forward Daniel Winnik said. “Who knows what’s going to happen for him, but I’m sure everyone’s planning for him to not be in the lineup.”