The best player in hockey wears an orange jersey. Sidney Crosby might be the golden boy of the NHL but Claude Giroux proved that he reigns supreme in 2012. He fittingly closed out an impressive series with a great performance in Game 6. Shortly after the puck drop, Giroux delivered a hit on Crosby that sent a message that he was ready to take the mantle as the league's top player. He added a goal shortly after that and carried his team to victory. It was a great way to cap a series that catapulted Giroux to a whole new level.
Entering this series, all of the talk involved the star power of Pittsburgh. Crosby had been anointed the savior of the league years ago and will always be regarded as one of the most important players. Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin is the favorite to win the MVP. Those are the top two players on the Pittsburgh team but neither came close to matching Giroux. This series proved that the best offensive player in hockey right now is on the Philadelphia Flyers.
Giroux was dominant on the ice. He had six goals and 14 points in the series. The 14 points were the most of any player during the first round by far. His Game 2 hat trick helped the Flyers take a commanding 2-0 lead at the time. His three points in Game 6 ensured that there would be no collapse. Giroux was able to set up other players for tons of scoring chances. He took smart shots and almost single-handedly drained the confidence of Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. His numbers were staggering but he was just as important as a team leader.
After the Flyers suffered their embarrassing 10-3 loss in Game 4, it was Giroux that declared it unacceptable. Prior to Game 6, it was Giroux that told Peter Laviolette that he wanted the first shift in order to send a message. His emotion on the ice had a clear impact on his teammates. Game 3 was a perfect example. While players like Crosby lost composure, Giroux was completely confident the entire time. He became a true leader.
Of course, Giroux needs to keep it up to earn true respect on a national level. After all, Crosby and Malkin won a Stanley Cup already. Giroux needs to do the same. However, right now he has helped make the Flyers a team that ranks among the favorites. If his team advances far enough, the Conn Smythe Trophy will be his to lose. If Giroux keeps things going the way he has, the Flyers just might answer the prayers of their fans.
* - Mark Paul is a Philadelphia resident and lifelong Flyers fan.