He was frustrated and angry. That much was clear. That much was obvious. What you didnt know was how hed respond.
After the Flyers lost Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals out in Pittsburgh, Claude Giroux smashed his stick over the net and shattered it to pieces. He said afterward that he needed to vent. When someone asked whether the pressure was on the Flyers because they had dropped two straight, Giroux said he hoped so, because I love pressure.
They werent hollow words. He wasnt posturing.
Before Game 6, before the Flyers went out and stomped the Penguins to advance to the semifinals, Giroux went up to Peter Laviolette. What the player said to the coach was closer to a directive than a request. That was more than fine with Lavioletteit was welcomed. According to Laviolette, Giroux went up to him and said, I dont know who youre planning on starting tonight, but I want that first shift.
He was so adamant about wanting that first shift, Laviolette continued. Line matchups didnt matter at that point. He wanted to get out on the ice. He wanted to make a statement. I think it speaks to Claude. You see the skill, but sometimes you dont know that, you dont hear that, you dont get that feel for him. Or maybe you do. But we do and I do. For him to come up and say that before the game, I think it speaks volumes about himas who he is, not only as a player and his skill, but who he is as a person.
Laviolette said Giroux made a statement with that first shift. Indeed he did. Giroux hit Crosby, made room for himself, and then deposited the puck into the net just 32 seconds into the contest. The Penguins never had a chance after that.
It wasnt planned to hit Crosby, said Giroux, who scored 14 points against the Penguins, the second most in Flyers history in a single series (Tim Kerr had 15 against Pittsburgh in 1989). But sometimes you have the chance to hit another player you just gotta go out there and do it. I was able to do it first shift. Anything you do, you want to be the best at it. If thats to score goals or make hits or block shots, whatever it is, Im gonna try to do it.
That didnt surprise Scott Hartnell. Like a lot of people, Hartnell gushed about the way Giroux played against the Penguins.
Hes probably the biggest competitor Ive ever played with, Hartnell said. He wants to win so bad. I could tell when I got to the rink here on Sunday that he was fired up and ready to go. When you hit like that first shift, score first shift, thats our best guy in here.
That is a big statement, to say Giroux is the most talented player on such a talented team. Laviolette went even further, calling Giroux the best player in the world. If you think thats a bit much, Laviolette wasnt alone in applying such a significant compliment to Giroux.
To me, hes the best player in the league right now, Kimmo Timonen said. Hes our motor, our engine. As he goes, we go.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org