PHILADELPHIA -- In his 15 years of professional coaching, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette never encountered what happened between him and Claude Giroux before Game 6 on Sunday.
"When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, 'I don't know who you're planning on starting tonight but I want that first shift,' that says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there," Laviolette said.
Giroux was out to set the tone for the game, and he did it in the biggest way possible. He delivered a big hit on Penguins captain Sidney Crosby six seconds after the puck dropped, and -- just 26 seconds later -- he turned a Steve Sullivan giveaway into the game's first goal.
It was an opening shift that shook the Wells Fargo Center and started the Flyers on their way to a series-clinching 4-2 win.
"About 10 seconds before the puck dropped, he came over and told me, 'Watch the first shift,'" Danny Briere said. "And what he did, I didn't even know what to say to him."
Briere wasn't the only teammate left in disbelief at the way Giroux set the tone and drove the Flyers to the victory.
In addition to scoring 32 seconds into the game, he set up the Flyers' next two goals as Philadelphia took a 3-0 lead 5:25 into the second period. He also had a team-high five shots, blocked two shots and won 14 faceoffs.
"[Giroux] is probably the biggest competitor that I have ever played with," Scott Hartnell said. "He wants to win so bad. I could tell right when I got to the rink this morning that he was fired up and ready to go. When you hit like that on the first shift, that's our best guy in here and he played a great game."
"He was possessed," Briere added. "He set the tone, 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. Showed the sign of a great leader right off the bat there."
But, Sunday was not the only game in which Giroux showed leadership. He had six goals and eight assists in the series, and his 14 points were one shy of the team record for a playoff series. It's also the first time since Crosby in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs that any player has scored as many as 14 points in a series.
It's been a season-long coming-out party for Giroux, who emerged from the shadows of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter this season to evolve into one of the best players in the League. Carter and Richards were traded from the Flyers this summer.
In response to that vote of confidence, Giroux was second in the League with 65 assists and third with 93 points. He was front and center for the Flyers in all situations, centering the top power-play and penalty-kill unit, taking all the important faceoffs and being used up a goal or down a goal in the final minute of a game.
"Claude had a great game from start to finish," Laviolette said. "He made sure the Flyers moved on to the second round."
Talk before the series was focused on how the Flyers would match up with the Penguins' big three centers. By the end of it, it was the Penguins left wondering how they could stop Giroux.
"He's just the best player on the ice, but I don't think we were surprised by that," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Maybe two years ago we would be surprised by that. He's a guy we are well aware of and have a tremendous respect for."
Giroux said he didn't take it as a personal rivalry to out-play Malkin and Crosby, but it certainly happened.
Crosby had three goals and five assists in the series, but when his team needed him most, he was a minus-3 with three shots on net. Malkin also had three goals and five assists -- including the Pens' only goal in Game 6 -- but he had just one even-strength point in the first three games of the series and showed frustration at the way the Flyers took him out of his comfort zone.
"Anything you do you want to be the best at it," Giroux said. "If that's to score goals or do hits or block shots, whatever it is, I'm going to try to do it."
"There's no doubt he's in their class now," Briere said, "if anyone was doubting before.