PHILADELPHIA -- When the Philadelphia Flyers were 4-10-1 in early November, it seemed like anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
The Flyers' fortunes have changed in a big way during the past six weeks. That was evident Thursday night when they scored three times in the final 4:39 of regulation for a come-from-behind 5-4 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Giroux also had two assists, giving him a hand in four of the Flyers' five goals in the third period.
"I think [Giroux] put all 20 of us on his back and led us to a big victory," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said.
The winner came in spectacular fashion as Giroux, positioned to the left of the Blue Jackets net, controlled the rebound of a Mark Streit shot and, as he was falling to the ice, somehow roofed a backhander over Columbus goalie Curtis McElhinney's glove and under the crossbar with 1:38 remaining.
"I was right in front," Hartnell said. "I saw it. I was going to go backdoor for the rebound, and it was like I saw it slow motion go right in, top corner. I was like, 'Oh my gosh.'"
The goal was the 100th of Giroux's career and his ninth of the season. It also gave him the sixth four-point game of his career and first since Feb. 16, 2012.
Jakub Voracek had a goal and two assists, and Braydon Coburn and Erik Gustafsson also scored to help the Flyers extend their home win streak to eight games and move into third place in the Metropolitan Division.
The teams will play the second game of their home-and-home set Saturday in Columbus.
"We should be angry and upset after this," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "At least I hope we are."
The Flyers should arrive at Nationwide Arena with growing confidence. They're 12-5-3 since that rough 15-game stretch to start the season.
"[Early in the season] we would collapse after that fourth goal, kind of drag down," Voracek said. "Now we get a little upset, and we stepped up and we didn't want to lose that game. We knew in the back of our minds that we can win this game, and that's exactly what happened."
They had extra motivation, as the players stressed they were hoping to get a win for goaltender Steve Mason, who made 29 saves in his first game against his former team.
"So many times at the start of the year he bailed us out," Giroux said. "For us to come back and get that win for him, he was really happy after the game. To have help from us once in a while is good."
Giroux supplied most of the help. The Flyers went into the third period trailing 3-0, but the captain started the run with a nice play behind the Columbus net, kicking a rebound away from Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin. He took the puck into the corner to the left of the Columbus net and then backhanded a pass to Voracek, who was behind the goal. Voracek skated out into the bottom of the right circle and beat McElhinney to the far side at 4:20 of the third.
The goal extended Voracek's point streak to six games and his goal streak to three.
Just 1:02 after Voracek got the Flyers on the board, Coburn pulled them within one when his off-balance shot from the blue line got past McElhinney at 5:22. It was the defenseman's first goal in 25 games.
A miscommunication by Hartnell and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann allowed Artem Anisimov to get a puck alone behind the Philadelphia net. He made a quick pass in front to Comeau, who scored at 8:35 to push the Blue Jackets' lead back to two.
Rather than sink, the Flyers began their comeback. It started when the Flyers took advantage of a delayed penalty on the Blue Jackets. Giroux carried the puck into the Columbus zone and dropped a pass for Wayne Simmonds, whose shot hit the skate of a Blue Jackets player and went to Gustafsson alone in front for his second goal of the season at 15:21.
Giroux tied the game 53 seconds later when he beat McElhinney to a loose puck in the crease. Michael Raffl deflected a Voracek shot off the post behind McElhinney, and Giroux got his stick under the goaltender's arm as he reached back and Giroux shoved it over the goal line at 16:14 to make it 4-4.
"That's the kind of game where you get the bounces," Giroux said. "Sometimes you don't get the bounces. But we got it this time."
It was the Blue Jackets getting all the bounces through the first two periods Thursday. They led 1-0 after one period on Atkinson's shorthanded goal despite being outshot 14-4.
They built on that lead when Skille finished a 2-on-1 break at 4:44 of the second period to make it 2-0, and then Foligno made it 3-0 when he scored from in front with 10.5 seconds left.
Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson made a nice individual effort to create the goal, first beating Flyers forward Matt Read to a loose puck along the wall deep in the Philadelphia zone and then using his body to protect the puck from Gustafsson behind the Flyers net. He spun and found Foligno cutting to the net, and his one-timer from the slot found just enough space between Mason's left arm and his body to squeeze through and trickle across the goal line.
The Blue Jackets carried the play in the second period, when they outshot the Flyers 18-9. But they weren't able to capitalize on it, letting the Flyers get back into the game twice.
"I think it's human nature when you have a lead like that to try and protect it," Johnson said. "It's kind of like the little football thing on prevent defense, which usually prevents you from winning. I think we let that creep into our game here. We sat back too much in the third to protect it, and in reality what you need to do is keep pushing back and stay on them, and we didn't do that. So hopefully we can get a positive out of this and learn from that and next time when you have a lead you not only protect it but you keep building off of it."
That starts Saturday when the Blue Jackets host the Flyers.
"We're going to have to think about this one and refresh our memories [Friday]," Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert said. "We played for 55 minutes [Thursday]. We had a good, solid game against them. We had a 4-2 lead. We have to do those same things."
The Flyers know it won't be an easy ride at Nationwide Arena.
"We can't play short of 60 and expect to win, and we did [Thursday] and got fortunate," Hartnell said. "We have to go into Columbus and keep on playing the way we did in the third period."
They'll arrive there firmly in the chase for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time this season.
"It's always nice when you can look at [the standings] and see your team in the playoffs," Flyers coach Craig Berube said, "[but] there's a lot of work."
|SHG - Cam Atkinson (10) ASST: Ryan Murray (5)|
1 - 0 CBJ
|Jack Skille (3) ASST: Mark Letestu (11), Nikita Nikitin (6)|
2 - 0 CBJ
|Nick Foligno (10) ASST: Jack Johnson (6), Brandon Dubinsky (16)|
3 - 0 CBJ
|Jakub Voracek (9) ASST: Claude Giroux (20), Mark Streit (11)|
3 - 1 CBJ
|Braydon Coburn (3) ASST: NONE|
3 - 2 CBJ
|Blake Comeau (3) ASST: Artem Anisimov (6)|
4 - 2 CBJ
|Erik Gustafsson (2) ASST: Wayne Simmonds (11), Claude Giroux (21)|
4 - 3 CBJ
|Claude Giroux (8) ASST: Michael Raffl (7), Jakub Voracek (12)|
4 - 4 Tie
|Claude Giroux (9) ASST: Mark Streit (12), Jakub Voracek (13)|
5 - 4 PHI
|Brandon Dubinsky Holding against Claude Giroux|
|Zac Rinaldo Charging against R.J. Umberger|
|Nikita Nikitin Holding against Michael Raffl|
|Tim Erixon Holding against Jakub Voracek|
|Braydon Coburn Interference against Nick Foligno|
|Jack Johnson Hooking against Matt Read|