Facing a Game 7 and an unfortunate trip to snowy Pittsburgh, Claude Giroux stepped up and put the responsibility on his own shoulders. He wears an "A," not a "C" on his sweater, yet he wanted to be in the pressure situation.
"He told me before the puck even dropped, about 10 seconds before they dropped the puck, he came over and he told me, 'Watch the first shift,' " Danny Briere said. "And when he did, I didn't even know what to say to him. He's been our leader all year, and once again he took another step in that direction."
Off the opening faceoff, Giroux threw a punishing check on Penguins captain Sidney Crosby to get a rise out of the crowd. Later in the same shift, Giroux scored the opening goal only 32 seconds into the game. He picked up a loose puck and beat Marc-Andre Fleury cleanly.
"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," coach Peter Laviolette said.
Giroux led the Flyers in a 5-1 win Sunday that eliminated the Penguins in six games. Even from the crease, where he made 30 saves, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov could tell Giroux was going to do something special.
"G is a pretty special player," Bryzgalov said. "He can hit. He can dish. He can score. He's good defensively. It's not many players like that in the world."
He blocked shots, too. He had two of the 40 the Flyers blocked as a team. That was a huge help to Bryzgalov, who had to face 31 shots that made their way to him. Only one got behind him.
"It's weird to say, but in the warmup we kinda know if he's gonna have a good game," Giroux said. "He was ready to go. He was our best player on the ice tonight. He gave us a chance to win."
Looking out for others, Giroux wanted to make sure everyone got their share of postgame praise while leaving little for himself. Even though his coach called him the "best player in the world," most of the hockey world was giving that title to Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin. Giroux wasn't shy about saying he wanted a share of that title.
"Anything you do, you want to be the best at it," Giroux said. "If that's to score goals, do hits or block shots, whatever it is, I am going to try to do it."
At the beginning of the year, the Flyers weren't thought of as a team that could make noise in the playoffs, let alone knock off a team that was supposed to win it all. If they advance a second time, the Flyers say it will be because of Giroux.
"To me, he's the best player in the league right now," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "It's our motor and engine, and when he goes, we go. He plays a lot of minutes. It was great to see that."