Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, in his first public statements regarding the accusation from Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher he either poked or gouged the eyes of ightning star Steven Stamkos, called the accusation "disappointing and childish."
"It's disappointing," Orpik told the St. Petersburg Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the Penguins' morning skate before Wednesday's Game 7 at the Consol Energy Center. "I didn't hear about it until this morning. It's disappointing. You try to play against their skill guys as hard as you can, try to make it miserable for them. But it's kind of a childish accusation, kind of a little wrestling match on the ground with a couple of headlocks. I don't know where that came from."
The alleged incident took place early in the third period of Monday's Game 6 during a scrum in front of the Penguins net. Stamkos came out of the pile "fired up," as he has said, and still was clearly agitated after the game. There was no penalty on the play, and Stamkos did not immediately address the confrontation, though Boucher said he saw it. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman indicated he spoke to the league about the incident, but the league took no action.
"That's him (Boucher) probably just pulling attention away from the Malone hit or something else," Orpik said of the hit from Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone on Pascal Dupuis that was called an elbow but replays seemed to make a case for shoulder on shoulder. "Or just trying to start something going into Game 7."
Either way, Orpik said, the accusation was "disappointing and childish" on Boucher's part.
As for Stamkos, he said what's past is past.
"I'm not focused on what happened in Game 6," he said. "That game is over right now. I'm focused on Game 7. We have to win in order to move on, so that's where the focus is right now."
Regarding Orpik, Stamkos said, "He's obviously a good defenseman in this league and he plays a physical style, so come playoff time why would you expect anything different? I've played against him a lot over the past three years. He's a competitor and he's going to do everything he can to get the advantage on you, so you've got to stay disciplined and be wiling to take some shots and sacrifice, and I think everybody on our team has been able to do that against everyone on their team so far."
Other stuff from the morning skate: No announced lineup changes for the Lightning, though we will wait and see what game time brings. ... Possible second-round opponents for Tampa Bay, if it wins tonight, are the Flyers and Capitals. Sounds as if it is more likely either series would start Friday, though a series with the Flyers might begin Saturday depending on how the 76ers are doing in their NBA playoffs. ... Here's an interesting stat: the Lightning is eighth in the playoffs with 187 hits. That is an average of 31.2. The team in the regular season was 27th and had an average of 20.1. "In the playoffs, everybody is more physical," said defenseman Pavel Kubina, who has a team-best 22 hits, one more than Nate Thompson. "Everything is on the line. Every shift is important. That's why I think we are more physical." ... Perhaps the most improved player for the Lightning since the start of the playoffs is defenseman Victor Hedman, who, according to Boucher, has really figured out how to manage the balance between offense and defense. "What I like is that in big games he's really good," Boucher said. "He's one of those kids who wants more, and under pressure he seems to be even better. It's the opposite in games that don't really mean that much; those are the games that score me with him." Said Hedman: "It's unbelievable how much you learn and how much you can pick up from other guys just from playing these games. This playoff experience is going to help a lot during the regular season next year, too. An amazing journey so far." ... Boucher on Thompson: "He'd stop a puck with his teeth if he had to." ... And Boucher on the combo of Thompson and Adam Hall, whom he called Laurel and Hardy: "They're together on the ice most of the time. We matched them against the top lines all year. Penalty kills they're triple shifted. I'd keep them out there for two minutes if I could. They're a pair." ... Boucher also talked about why the first round of the playoffs, for the most part, has been so hotly contested. "What we're seeing is what everybody has been talking about," he said. "We have parity in the league right now. Anybody can beat you. If you finished first or eighth, doesn't really make a difference. We can see other teams can win in the other team's rink. Every team you meet will beat you the minute you're a little off. It's such a fine line, and that's what we see in the payoffs right now. With parity and with teams battling since January as if it is the playoffs, you come to the playoffs and everybody is ready because they've been at it since January."