13 days ago, Claude Giroux sent a statement to the hockey world in Game 6 of the Flyers' opening round series with their hated in-state rivals from Pittsburgh.
Giroux, who asked head coach Peter Laviolette to start the game and then told Danny Briere to "watch this" seconds before faceoff, laid out Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby and fired a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury just 27 seconds into the contest. The game was over before it really started. Because Giroux said it was.
After the game, he was praised. Flyers fans rejoiced, for their savior had arrived.
Everyone was convinced he had dethroned Sid the Kid as "the best player in the world," whatever that means. You know, because Peter Laviolette said so.
Fast forward two weeks later. The Flyers are in a 2-1 hole to their other proximity-based rivals, the New Jersey Devils, thanks to an all-world performance by Ilya Kovalchuk in Game 3, where he returned from an injury by scoring a point on every Devils goal.
After a 14-point performance in round 1 that had everyone in Philadelphia proclaiming the Conn Smythe race over, Giroux has gone pointless in three games at even strength. He's also a -3.
Best player in the world indeed.
But Mike, his 15 points still lead all playoff scorers. How can you possibly criticize Claude Giroux? You're probably just jealous of his hair.
Okay, you've got me on that last point. Feathered and lethal.
Giroux's only point came on the power play, a one-timer that he blistered past Martin Brodeur to give the Flyers a momentary lead in the third period of Game 1.
Now, the Devils deserve a lot of credit for keeping a lid on Giroux on five-on-five play through three games, but take a closer look at Philadelphia's first-round matchup, won't you? In six games, the Flyers and Penguins combined for less than seven goals just once. Marc-Andre Fleury was spectacularly awful for five of those games. And the Flyers took full advantage of that.
Scoring eight goals in games 2 and 3 made the series look more like a video game than the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And Giroux's stat line reflected that. Six goals, eight assists and statement after statement that he was tired of playing second fiddle to Crosby and the Penguins. Sure, makes for a great story. Especially if you're any one of the Flyers fanatics beat writers.
The fandemonium in the Philadelphia press box reached new heights when the Hart Trophy finalists were released last week. Keep in mind, everyone, these awards are given out for performance in the regular season. Not the playoffs. Giroux's gaudy first-round stats added fuel to the fire that was already cookin' with gas in the City of Brotherly Mindlessness.
Now, make no mistake. Giroux had an outstanding regular season, scoring 93 points in 77 games. That was good for third in the League. His 65 assists were bested only by Henrik Sedin's 67. He made everyone around him better. Hell, he single-handedly made Scott Hartnell an all-star for crying out loud.
But he was beaten out in the voting for the NHL's MVP award by three deserving candidates, in Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Henrik Lundqvist. But let's be honest, it's Malkin's award anyway. So whether it was Stamkos, Lundqvist, Giroux, Jonathan Quick, Mike Smith or anyone else you want to throw in, we're all only arguing about who will finish second and third anyway.
But CSN Philly's Tim Panaccio wasn't having any of it. He actually had the audacity to wonder aloud if the rest of the Professional Hockey Writers Association was conspiring against Philadelphia players, intentionally keeping them from winning individual awards.
Feel free to rub your eyes and then take another look. That's real life, you guys.
Giroux, who seems to be embracing his stardom with unparalleled grace, reacted to the award snub the only way Flyers fans could hope.
"Ah, no, I didn’t see the news but at the end of the day, that’s not the trophy I want," he told Panaccio. "Obviously, it’s not something I control and a detail I don’t care a lot about."
Is he the best player in the world? Probably not, but who cares. For everyone to just take notice now that Giroux is among the game's elite is wildly irresponsible. Giroux certainly doesn't care about individual awards, especially after being so close to hockey's Holy Grail in 2010.
Could Giroux come out in Game 4 on Sunday and lead the Flyers to a pivotal victory by tallying five points? You bet. There's still more than enough time for Giroux to elevate the play of his teammates just as he's done all year. Brodeur hasn't looked all that show-stopping in this series either. Just ask Danny Briere.
But his blaring presence on the scoresheet against Pittsburgh has only made his relative absence there in the Eastern Conference Semifinals all the more eye-gauging.
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