Skating near the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bench, Giroux knocked Sidney Crosby to the ice with a hefty check. By the end of his shift, Giroux had blasted the puck by Marc-Andre Fleury, giving the Flyers a lead they never relinquished.
“He was possessed,” Danny Briere
said. “He set the tone. It’s as plain and simple as that – he set the tone for the whole game. His first shift, he took charge. That was beautiful to see. It’s the sign of a great leader.”
With that, the Flyers were on their way to a 5-1 victory over the Penguins. In clinching the series, 4 games to 2, they became the first Eastern Conference team to advance to the second round.
The win capped an opening round playoff series as memorable as any in the Flyers’ lengthy history. The series was packed with comeback wins, unlikely pugilists, dazzling rookies and loads of goals. It even included a cameo video appearance by Hulk Hogan.
Of course, all of this was amplified by the fierce hatred between the intrastate rivals.
“There was a lot of buildup to the series (with) playing them twice in the last week of the season,” Scott Hartnell
said. “The way the first three games went – they were physical, they were dirty. But they were, in a playoff game, what you want. We’re just happy that we’re moving on.”
The two teams combined to tally 45 goals in the first four games, an NHL record. In Games 2 and 3, the Flyers set a franchise record by recording eight goals in back-to-back contests. Entering play on Sunday, the two teams’ players accounted for 11 of the league’s top 13 scorers. And by the series’ final horn, the teams had accumulated 56 total goals.
Hartnell, who scored the series-clincher, said the series was just as much fun to play as it was to watch.
“Playing like we did the first couple games in their building, stealing those games and the way we did it (by) coming back – it was awesome,” Hartnell said. “Just the amount of goals that were scored was a little ridiculous. We’ve got to play these games like we did tonight.”
True to their late-season habit, the Flyers fell behind in each of the first three games, only to overcame those deficits to take a shocking 3-0 lead in the series.
Despite a 4-2 regular season record against the Penguins, few prognosticators had given the Flyers much of a chance against the Penguins, who had been awarded the dubious label of being the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup.
“I think it’s real satisfying to be able to move on against that team,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “A lot of people picked them. So, we were underdogs. We went out and did the things we had to do.”
Some of those things, like shot-blocking and sound goaltending, took a little longer for the Flyers to do, but by Game 6, they were there.
Led by rookie Erik Gustafsson
, the Flyers blocked an astounding 40 shots in Game 6. When the shots got through the defense, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
was there to snare them, collecting 30 saves on 31 chances.
Much had been made about the two teams’ porous defenses and goaltenders, but Giroux said he could tell during warm-ups that Bryzgalov was poised for a strong Game 6.
“When he’s focused, he’s kind of in a bubble and does his own thing,” Giroux said. “It’s weird to say, but in the warm-up, we kind of know if he’s going to have a good game. He was ready to go. He was our best player on the ice tonight.”
Not to be outdone, Bryzgalov sent a compliment right back at Giroux.
“He’s a very special player,” Bryzgalov said. “He can skate, he can deke, he can score. He’s good on defense. There’s not many players like that in the world.”
That’s a big statement, but there’s nobody questioning it in Philadelphia. There probably are not too many people in Pittsburgh who would argue against it, either.
Despite the Penguins’ star-studded roster and a fine performance from Jordan Staal, Giroux stole the show. The Flyers’ center was spectacular all series, racking up a league-high 14 points, including six goals and eight assists. He set a franchise record with six points in Game 2, two of which came while the Flyers were shorthanded.
But perhaps his most impactful moment came in the hours before Game 6, when Giroux sought out his coach for a simple, but direct request.
According to Laviolette, Giroux told him, “I don’t know who you’re planning on starting tonight, but I want that first shift.”
Laviolette granted Giroux’s request and the center rewarded him for it with a game-setting first shift.
“That says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux
,” Laviolette said.
Giroux also helped lead a power play unit that was nothing short of lethal. The Flyers finished the series with a 52 percent success rate on the power play. Scott Hartnell
’s Game 6 goal gave the Flyers 12 power play scores in the series, yet another franchise record.
“We watch a lot of tape and make sure we know what everybody is doing out there,” said Kimmo Timonen
, who quarterbacks the unit. “Obviously, Wayne (Simmonds) and Hartsy in front of the net – that’s two big guys screening the goalie. … We put the puck to the net.
That’s the way you’re going to score. It’s not always pretty. Like Hartsy’s goal tonight. He jumped in there. It’s one of those dirty goals, but it’s a playoff goal right there.”
Hartnell’s goal proved to be the series-clincher. The goal came midway through the first period, but the Flyers sealed the win with their most complete game of the series.
Briere, who has played here for five seasons, said Game 6 was among his proudest moments as a Flyer, because everyone – not just a handful of players – contributed in some fashion.
“This was pretty wild,” Briere said. “It’s a pretty good feeling to win. I’m proud of how everybody responded today. I know we have a lot of veterans, but for such a young team to respond today the way we did – the pressure was building up. So many guys sacrificed their bodies today ... blocking shots, taking hits, not retaliating. I’ll remember this series for a long, long time.”