- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2016

A hit on Olli Maatta in the opening minutes of the first period on Saturday has led to a three-game suspension for Brooks Orpik, who will be forced to sit out the remaining guaranteed games of the Washington Capitals’ second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

Orpik was suspended by the NHL on Sunday night, with the league ruling that his hit on Maatta in the Penguins’ eventual 2-1 victory in Game 2 was “forceful, unacceptably high and excessively late.” The resulting injury and Orpik’s disciplinary history — he has been suspended twice previously — led to the ruling.

Maatta, who apparently sustained a concussion, needed to be helped off the ice by teammates and athletic trainers and did not return to the game. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Sunday that he is “probably not optimistic” that Maatta will be able to play on in Game 3 of the tied series on Monday but said he was unable to provide further specifics.

The Penguins defenseman had taken a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle at 4:12 and skated through it after the puck was released. Orpik peeled off center Nick Bonino, who carried the puck into the zone, to defend Maatta, and though Maatta had stopped skating, Orpik did not and hit Maatta in the head with his left shoulder.

Maatta immediately fell to the ice, with his arms outstretched to his left side, and play was halted with Orpik whistled for interference. Maatta was tended to by athletic trainer Curtis Bell and left the ice with assistance from Bonino and defenseman Trevor Daley.

In a video accompanying the announcement of Orpik’s suspension, Patrick Burke, the league’s director of player safety, explained that Maatta was not eligible to be checked on the play because one second had elapsed since he had possession of the puck.

“It is also important to note that Orpik is entirely in control of this play,” Burke said. “He sees the shot, knows Maatta is not in possession of the puck and even adjusts his course slightly as he tracks Maatta, then delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact.”

The Capitals did not permit Orpik to talk to reporters after the game, though coach Barry Trotz said he chatted with the defenseman following the play and was told that Orpik thought Maatta was pursuing the rebound of his own shot in that corner — something the league apparently did not believe.

A number of Penguins players said after the game they did not see the hit. Center Sidney Crosby, the Penguins’ captain, stopped just short of calling it dirty, and Sullivan was adamant that it was not a legal play.

Orpik participated in a conference call on Sunday with officials from the league’s department of player safety, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan and his agent, Lewis Gross — a standard procedure in such instances.

Speaking at the Capitals’ hotel in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, before the suspension was announced, left wing Daniel Winnik said the team had already been preparing as though Orpik would not be available to play in Game 3 on Monday.

“Orpie’s an honest hockey player,” left wing Marcus Johansson told reporters on Sunday. “He plays tough and hard and honest, I think, and … stuff happens, I guess.”

Orpik, who missed the final three games of the Capitals’ first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers with a concussion, returned in time for Game 1 of the series against the Penguins. In his absence, the Capitals turned to Taylor Chorney for two games before rotating Mike Weber into the lineup for the finale.

On Saturday, Dmitry Orlov was pulled from the lineup for the first time all season, with Chorney entering in his place. The Capitals could turn back to Orlov, who would provide them with a faster, offensive-minded option against the Penguins, or tab Weber, a bigger player and Pittsburgh native built more in Orpik’s stead.

Without Maatta, who missed 15 games this season because of injuries, the Penguins were forced to rotate five defensemen — leading to Kris Letang playing 35:22, the most ice time he has seen in a regulation game, regular season or playoffs, in his career.

“I mean, you have to expect it when you see a guy goes down,” Letang said. “You know that the ice time needs to go different ways, and especially a guy like Olli, he plays like 22, 23 minutes a night, so you know that [someone would play] a lot more.”

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