Although he is measured and even-keeled in his public pronouncements, Flyers captain Claude Giroux has always been driven by an intense inner fire and a high degree of confidence in himself and his team. He leads through setting a positive example that pulls others to follow along in step rather than by pushing.
It's often said in hockey that, when the chips are down, a team's best players have to be just that. As he was throughout the 2017-18 regular season, Giroux was the single biggest driving force down the stretch drive as the Flyers staked down an Eastern Conference playoff spot on the final day of the season. Giroux finished the season on a 10-game point streak (8g-11a--19 pts). He had at least one point in 18 of the Flyers' final 19 games (12g-16a--28 points). The Flyers finished the season with a 7-1-3 record over the final 11 games of the campaign.
The captain and the rest of the Flyers saved the best for last. In a relentless 60-minute effort by the entire team, Giroux scored one power play goal and two even strength goals -- his second career hat trick and first in the regular season -- as the Flyers crushed the New York Rangers, 5-0, in front of a record Wells Fargo Center crowd that, symbolically enough, numbered 20,028.
Throughout Saturday's game, the fans serenaded No. 28 with chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" There were similar chants during the Flyers' win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. Locked in a tight game that night that went down to the wire, Giroux said after Thursday's game that he hadn't heard the chants.
He most certainly heard the crowd loud and clear on Saturday. At one point, Giroux even smiled and waved in acknowledgement to the crowd. While Giroux is a player who likes to chirp and have fun on the ice, he rarely wavers from his game face while on the bench; at least not until the game is over.
"It was hard to miss, they were great tonight. They gave us all a boost," Giroux said with a grin. "The fans were great and I tried to kind of relax, I was pretty uncomfortable there when I was on the big screen, but I had [linemate Michael Raffl] beside me telling me to get up."
Giroux finished the regular season with 102 points (34g-68a). He became the sixth member of the Flyers' 100-point club; an exclusive club that includes four hockey Hall of Famers in Bob Clarke, Bill Barber, Mark Recchi and Eric Lindros as well as Flyers Hall of Fame inductee Rick MacLeish. Although several other teammates enjoyed excellent seasons in 2017-18, Giroux was the clear-cut winner of the Bobby Clarke Trophy as Flyers' MVP; the fifth time he's won the honor.
Apart from all the points he racked up during the season, Giroux's leadership was shown in other crucial ways. Although he was an established star at center, the captain had no qualms whatsoever before the season about making a position switch to left wing. When the team was mired in a 10-game winless skid from November to early December, Giroux had a calming effect on the team that, along with the rest of the leadership group, helped keep the dressing room united. The Flyers posted the fourth-most points across the entire NHL thereafter until the end of the regular season.
Giroux was also the one of the NHL's most dominant faceoff men all season. He entered the regular season finale with 58.6 percent winning percentage on draws and then went out and won 4-of-6 in the finale. At age 30, he logged monster ice time -- a defenseman-like average of 20:24 per game -- and dressed in every game of the season.
Coming off a hip and groin issue that hampered him in the latter part of the 2015-16 season and what by his own admission was a down year in 2016-17, the 100-point season and continuing to build on his legacy of durability meant something to Giroux although he always tried to keep the public focus on the team.
"Last year was really tough especially mentally. To be able to start the year and play I think it's my first time playing with one guy the whole year, playing with [Sean Couturier] and as a winger I don't always do the right things, but I get away with it because I got Coots making the smart plays so I really feel lucky to play with him and we're gonna hopefully keep going here," Giroux said.
Giroux was a Hart Trophy finalist in 2013-14 after finishing fourth in the balloting in 2011-12. While he's had a career-best season this year, many national pundits in the U.S. and Canada have excluded his name from their lists of top candidates for the Hart Trophy.
"G is an unbelievable player, he deserves everything he's getting this year and definitely deserves to be in the MVP conversation. I don't know how some people don't put him there. It's crazy, he steps up his game every time the game is bigger. That's the kind of guy he is, it shows his character and he's our leader," Couturier said.
Added Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol after the season finale, "For me, he's never needed the validation, but if this is the exclamation point tonight that he put on his season in the most important game of our season, doesn't say that to the outside world, I don't know what would. He doesn't need that kind of validation inside of our dressing room or amongst his teammates, but he's done it all this year and he's done it under pressure and that for me, that says a lot about him and who he is and what he's all about."
If Giroux's career history is any indicator, the best may be yet to come in the playoffs. For his Stanley Cup playoff career, Giroux had posted 62 points (23g-39a) in 63 games. His playoff points-per-game average ranks him in the top five in franchise history.