(Philadelphia, PA) - It was a quiet plane trip home from Pittsburgh late Friday night. It wasn't just that the Philadelphia Flyers lost, but they felt they gave a game away by committing three late-game penalties.
One of them -- the one that ended up being the costliest -- was committed by rookie center Claude Giroux
during overtime. With the teams skating four-on-four, Giroux was covering the Penguins' Chris Kunitz heading back into the Flyers' zone. The usual hacking and whacking was going on, but Giroux whacked a bit too hard on Kunitz's stick and broke it in half. A referee saw it, and Giroux was sent off for slashing. Seconds later the Penguins had a two-man advantage, and that's when Bill Guerin scored the game-winning goal.
Giroux was deflated, but his seatmate on the trip did his best to pump his tires. Coach John Stevens decided to share some words of support with the youngster.
"I think he felt really bad because he cares," said Stevens. "I sat with him on the plane and just really talked about his learning experience. We tell any young player on our team, if the intention to do the right thing is there and the effort is there, mistakes are going to happen. In the case of the game in Pittsburgh, the intentions were there, he was playing hard -- come back and have a big game tomorrow."
Giroux was uplifted by his coach's words, and his play on the ice in Sunday's 6-3 win in Game 3 spoke volumes.
"It was good for him to come see me," Giroux said. "I was a little mad at myself for making that penalty, but he came to me and said don't worry about it, you have to bounce back. … He gave me more confidence. I was able to put that behind me faster. I was real disappointed about what I did (but) I was able to put that behind me and play my game."
His game, as fans all over the country got to see, is about high levels of skill and remarkable vision and passing ability.
He scored the go-ahead goal on the biggest shift of the game for the Flyers. The Penguins had tied the game, 2-2, 13 seconds into the second period and the Flyers looked like they were about to fall apart. Then Giroux and linemates Danny Briere
and Darroll Powe jumped on the ice. Powe's shot off the rush bounced off goalie Marc-Andre Fleury right to Briere. Briere slid a nifty pass to Giroux, who calmly deposited it in the back of the net for his first NHL playoff goal.
Just over four minutes later, Giroux made the highlight play of the night. With the Flyers a man down, he took the puck from Sergei Gonchar behind the Pittsburgh net, deked away from Kris Letang and feathered a blind backhand pass to Simon Gagne on the far post for an easy goal.
Giroux didn't seem overly impressed by his magical play -- "I saw Simon go to the net. I was on the penalty kill so I wanted to play it safe, so I fired it to the far post and it ended up on his stick. So it was good," he said -- but others certainly were.
"He's been known to have elite vision," Stevens said. "I'm not sure there's many players that are capable of making a play like that. He didn't just throw that blind. He hung onto it … he threaded the needle and got it to the back post. It was really an unbelievable pass by a young player."
"His hockey sense is unbelievable," captain Mike Richards said. "To see him see different players around the ice and make different passes, he's been great for us all year and tonight was no different."
Giroux wasn't the only young player who made surprising contributions. Powe, an undrafted rookie from Princeton University was a plus-1 in 11:07 of ice time, and beside the assist on Giroux's goal, he had four hits and blocked two shots. And Jared Ross, from the hockey hinterlands of Huntsville, Ala., scored his first NHL goal early in the third.
"I thought Jared Ross came in, he's a little guy but he's very competitive, responsible, gave us some great minutes," Stevens said. "To see him score a goal like that on a great cycle shift was terrific. I think Darroll Powe has been a really good player the whole series. He just moves his feet, he gets on top of people; we move him all over the place, he played all three forward positions tonight and does a great job wherever we put them."
The Flyers' big stars like Gagne, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards all contributed in Game 3, but those players know they'll only go as far as players like Ross, Powe and especially Giroux help take them.
"If we're going to make any noise here we need those guys to keep going because we can't do it with just two lines," said Carter.