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Oprik's OT goal sends Penguins to next round

The SportsXchange

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Brooks Orpik no longer has to worry about being asked to recall the last time he scored a goal. And the Pittsburgh Penguins no longer have to worry about being asked to recall the last time they won a playoff series.

Orpik's first goal of the season 7:49 into overtime on Saturday night gave the Penguins a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and clinched the best-of-seven series. The top-seeded Penguins will face seventh-seeded Ottawa in the conference semifinals, with the start date still to be determined.

The series win is the first for Pittsburgh since 2010 and only the Penguins' second since winning the 2009 Stanley Cup.

"It's a different group every year, we have a lot of (new) guys here -- this group hasn't lost a series yet," Orpik said. "You can look back the last couple years if you want. It's a completely different group of guys."

And there was no more different way for the Penguins to advance than on an overtime goal by Orpik, who has 11 goals in 638 regular-season games and hadn't scored since Nov. 21, 2011 -- a span of 536 days.

But after surviving a flurry of Islanders opportunities in the early minutes of overtime, it was Orpik who ended New York's bid to force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Sunday by firing in the winner from just in front of the Stanley Cup Playoffs logo.

"Felt great," Orpik said. "I'm definitely not a goal scorer. It's been a long time between goals and I obviously do other things to try to help the team win. (Scoring is) not what I'm looked for, but it's always a good feeling, especially in that situation.

"I'd much rather get one there than in the regular season, when it doesn't really matter."

Orpik wasn't the only unusual goal scorer for the Penguins. Defenseman Paul Martin, who has 37 goals in 584 regular-season games, forced overtime when he scored with just under six minutes to play in the third period.

"Before the game, it's not uncommon to try to pick guys who might score in the game, and I don't think anybody had Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Jarome Iginla and Pascal Dupuis also scored for the Penguins.

The overtime win -- in which Pittsburgh didn't lead until Orpik's goal -- was an appropriately draining way for the Penguins to eliminate the Islanders, who needed to go 11-2-4 down the stretch in order to land their first trip to the playoffs since 2007.

Once there, the Islanders gave the Penguins all they could handle throughout a taut and physical series that featured a post-buzzer melee in Game 4. The Islanders won Games 2 and 4 to even the series and took three one-goal leads on Saturday, when they outshot the Penguins 38-21.

"It was a scramble -- I think they were pretty even, if not better than us today," said a sweat-soaked Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury before Game 5 and followed a shutout with 35 saves. "It was a tough game. I must have lost at least eight pounds."

Bylsma declined to say who he'd go with in goal once the Penguins face Ottawa.

"We're going to enjoy the fact that we got four wins and (are) moving on before we talk about what's going to happen moving forward," Bylsma said.

Michael Grabner, John Tavares and Colin McDonald scored goals and goalie Evgeni Nabokov made 17 saves for the Islanders, who have not won a postseason series since 1993, when they knocked off the Penguins in the Patrick Division finals.

"We were right there," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Like I told the guys afterward, there's nothing as a coaching staff (that) we can (say) that's going to ease the feeling or the disappointment that they feel right now. But we took huge strides as an organization. Not many people gave us a chance to get where we got."

Less than a minute after the Islanders' season concluded and before the traditional end-of-series handshake between the teams, the capacity crowd of 16,170 at aging Nassau Coliseum -- which roared like the old days throughout the Islanders' playoff push and in all three postseason games -- began chanting "Let's Go Islanders!"

"I think (fans) respect the work ethic and the desperation that our guys played with," Capuano said. "Our guys left it on the ice, they gave it everything that they had, and it was great for our guys to hear the response when the series was over."

NOTES: The NHL announced Friday that Tavares and the Penguins' Sidney Crosby were two of the three finalists for the Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the most valuable player. The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin is the third candidate. The last Islanders player to finish in the top three in Hart Trophy balloting was Bryan Trottier in 1984. ... The Islanders entered Saturday 25-17 all time when facing elimination. The Penguins were 28-27 when playing with the chance to eliminate a foe but winless in their last five such opportunities. Pittsburgh blew a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and failed to close out Montreal after taking a 3-2 lead in the Eastern semifinals in 2010.
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