With due respect to Steve Mason and Ray Emery, to a blue line that’ll have to handle Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis, to a coach in Craig Berube doing this playoff thing for the first time, there is one key to the Philadelphia Flyers’ series against the New York Rangers, and his name is Claude Giroux.
The criteria for an MVP gets thrown around a lot this time of year, but Giroux was third on my ballot – behind Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf – for good reason: As he goes, so go the Flyers.
Giroux scored 64 points in their 42 wins, including 25 goals. That’s a 1.52 points per game average. In their losses, he had 22 points in 40 games, including three goals. That’s a 0.55 points per game average. Look, I’m no math major, but …
He was their third-best forward in corsi when the game was tied and in one-goal games, driving possession numbers with his top line.
But now comes the heavy lifting. The New York Rangers are a better team than the Philadelphia Flyers, on paper and in the standings. Giroux hasn’t been good against them: Two assists in four games this season with just four shots on goal, a trend that continued from last season when he had five assists in five games with no goals. His last goal against the Rangers came on Feb. 11, 2012.
Part of this is cracking the code of Henrik Lundqvist, and part of this is seeing copious amounts of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, who have a funny way of making opposing offensive stars mighty quiet in the postseason.
“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."
There’s another factor here too: Giroux and the Flyers have struggled mightily at MSG, where they could play four games in this series. From the Inquirer:
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."
This is true, and full marks to Giroux for setting the tone of that play. But it can’t stop now.
In Giroux’s favor in this series: His playoff legacy. He’s one of six active players to average more than a point per game in the postseason, ranking 14th in NHL history at 1.10. That’s north of Pavel Bure, Joe Sakic and Bobby Hull through his first 50 playoff games.
What they can’t afford is a season like 2010-11, when he played 11 games and scored one goal (but had 12 points).
Again, I’m no math major, but he scores, they win. The Flyers are 21-2-1 when he puts the puck in the net.
So if the Flyers are going to defeat the Rangers, they need Giroux to do something he hasn’t done in over two years. But he’s made a bit of a habit of reversing downward trends this season.