Giroux shows he can handle pressure
Peter Laviolette stood in the multipurpose room at the Prudential Center on the night of April 22, 2010, gushing about a 22-year-old.
It was a most satisfying moment for Laviolette, not just for the fact that his Flyers eliminated the Devils from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Standing in front of the collected media, Laviolette recalled that a kid had asked him for more responsibility during a meeting prior to the start of the series against the second-seeded Devils. The first-year had played well in the regular season, finishing with 16 goals and 47 points. But the playoffs are different, especially against a rival that many predicted was earmarked for another Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
All the rookie did in the series was score six points — including two goals and an assist in the clinching game. He would finish the Flyers' playoff run — which ended with a six-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Stanley Cup Final — with 10 goals, 21 points and a plus-7 rating.
The 22-year-old’s name? Claude Giroux.
Two years have passed since that night in Newark, NJ, and Giroux has evolved to the point where his name is firmly affixed into any debate regarding which athlete is the NHL’s best.
Philadelphia on Sunday advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a thoroughly dominant 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Giroux was among the primary reasons why the Flyers won the Keystone State series four games to two.
For the series he totaled 11 points in the six games — five goals and six assists — and played with an edge that belied his 5-foot-11, 181-pound frame. He was credited with six hits, 11 penalty minutes and won 76 of 148 faceoffs in the series.
Admitted Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after Game 6: "He was the best player on the ice."
Laviolette told reporters that Giroux demanded to take the opening shift. Almost immediately after the first puck was dropped, he leveled Penguins star Sidney Crosby with a check near the benches, got into the offensive play and snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury only 32 seconds into the game.
The Flyers had a 1-0 lead and the Wells Fargo Center morphed into the world's largest asylum.
"I wasn't planning to hit Crosby. When you have a chance to hit another player, you've got to go out there and do it," Giroux said.
Giroux added assists on Scott Hartnell's power-play goal — which turned out to be the game winner — and Erik Gustafsson's marker which put Philly ahead 3-0 in the second period. He finished the game with three points, a plus-2 rating and two blocked shots, and was named first star.
"His game tonight was monstrous. When your best player makes a statement like that," Laviolette said before trailing off. "Claude Giroux led us to the second round."
Despite Philadelphia's uncertain goaltending (Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky allowed 26 goals in the six games) the Flyers enter the second round as one of the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals, especially with the Rangers, Bruins and Devils each one game away from elimination.
And why not the Flyers? Philadelphia finished the regular season with the NHL's sixth-best record (47-26-9, 102 points) even after GM Paul Holmgren revamped the franchise over the summer by trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, now both plying their trade for the Los Angeles Kings.
Sure the Flyers’ average player age is 28, but much of that is due to 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr and 37-year-old Chris Pronger; Philadelphia possesses an enviable young nucleus that should contend for the Cup for years to come.
The unquestioned bandleader of this group of Broad Street Bullies is Giroux. And his evolution from promising prospect to franchise cornerstone can be traced back to a late-season meeting with his coach in 2010.
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman