Giroux the leader of Flyers' resurgence

Flyers captain Claude Giroux. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Flyers captain Claude Giroux. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 18, 2014

Claude Giroux's bottom line - he finished third in the NHL with 86 points, and is expected to be one of the league's three MVP finalists - is remarkable when you consider how his season began.

With no points in his first five games.

With no goals in his first 15 games.

The slow start was hindered by finger surgery following a bizarre golf injury, one that bothered his stickhandling and made it difficult for him to get enough power behind his shots.

Giroux was a frustrated sort in the season's first month. Since then, the shifty, highly intense Flyers center has become more than a prolific scorer. He has become more vocal in the locker room, put his teammates on his back, and carried them into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"He just started playing like he usually did," defenseman Braydon Coburn said after Wednesday's practice in Voorhees. "He just started playing like 'G.' "

Now comes the most important part of the captain's season: trying to lead them to their first Stanley Cup since 1975. The mission starts Thursday in New York's Madison Square Garden, the Flyers' house of horrors.

In his career, Giroux has been dominating in the postseason, collecting 21 goals and 55 points in 50 games. He had eight goals and 17 points in 10 games during the 2012 playoffs, but was suspended for an illegal hit to the head of the Devils' Dainius Zubrus and did not play in the Flyers' series-ending loss.

Giroux, 26, who guaranteed the Flyers would make the playoffs when they had a 1-7 record this season, did not score a goal in four regular-season games against the Rangers this season, including 4-1 and 3-1 defeats at the Garden.

"We lost two games there, but we plan to change that," he said. "We're not focusing on the losses; we're focusing on the games we played good and played 60 minutes and played as a team. That's the kind of team we are."

Giroux and linemates Scott Hartnell and Jake Voracek have struggled against Rangers defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi this season.

"They can't force things and can't get unfocused and get frustrated," Flyers coach Craig Berube said of the Giroux line. "I think it's important they stay with it and keep doing the right things, shift after shift. And I think good things will happen; they're too good of players."

The Flyers have lost eight straight at the Garden, getting outscored, 31-9.

"To be honest, it's just you guys talking about it," Giroux told the reporters surrounding his locker. "We're not too worried about it. . . . Those are details we don't need to be worrying about. We need to worry about how we've been playing and - you know what - the last few months we've been playing good."

They especially play well when Giroux is involved in the scoring. The Flyers are 21-2-1 when Giroux scores a goal, and 33-15-4 when he manages at least a point.

In the first 15 games, with Giroux goalless, the Flyers got off to miserable start. After they dropped a 3-0 decision to New Jersey and slipped to 4-10-1 on Nov. 7, Giroux refused to talk to the media. He later said he was too frustrated to talk.

Instead, he presided over a team meeting and was at his outspoken best.

After that meeting, the Flyers went 38-20-9.

"He's not a guy who's going to be talking all the time in the room, but when he feels something needs to be said, he's not afraid or shy to say it - and that's what you need from your captain," center Brayden Schenn said. "He's become a great leader, and guys listen."

Giroux's hand started feeling better around that time of the team meeting, playing a huge part in his resurgence, and of the Flyers'.

"When your team plays well, it's going to be easier for you to get your game back up," he said. "I felt after 10, 15 games that everybody built their game and we started playing as a team."

In addition to the hand injury, the hard-driven Giroux was pressing in the season's first 15 games.

"There was obviously frustration," Berube said. "Being the captain of the team and the leader of the team, he felt a lot on his shoulders. The first 15 games, I didn't see him shooting the puck a lot. I thought after that he really put the puck on net a lot and really had an attack mentality. It opened things up, I thought. He got involved physically more and got involved in the game more."

Giroux's teammates followed his lead.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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