Odd Man Rush: Giroux making good on prediction
By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Philadelphia Flyers had just one victory in their first eight games and were on their second head coach of the season when captain Claude Giroux uttered the words.
That seemed like the furthest thing that should have been on anyone's minds for a Flyers team that had missed the playoffs for just the second time in 18 seasons and was already behind the 8-ball just two weeks into the current campaign.
But that didn't stop Giroux's Excalibur-like sense of optimism from cutting through the macabre aura that had settled over his team.
"We're not far at all. How many points are we off, six? To think that with the start we had, we're that close. We've never thought that we're not going to make the playoffs," Giroux told the Flyers' official website on Oct. 21.
"We'll take it here game-by-game and we will make the playoffs."
Bold words by anyone, but even more audacious given that Giroux had just three assists in eight games.
Once called the best player in the world during the 2012 playoffs by head coach Peter Laviolette, fired after three games this season and replaced by Craig Berube, Giroux would go without a goal for another seven games before getting his first on Nov. 9.
Despite the captain's struggles, the Flyers were starting to come around. They won back-to-back games after Giroux's statement and are 15-8-4 since the 1-7-0 start as they have steadily climbed up the ladder in the Metropolitan Division.
And now Giroux is starting to get hot, posting 10 points over a five-game point streak and basically putting the team on his back in Thursday's 5-4 rally over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Flyers trailed by scores of 3-0 and 4-2 before pulling out the improbable win. Giroux assisted on a pair of goals before netting the final two, including the game-winning highlight-reel tally with 1:38 to play.
His first of the night was more conventional, putting home a rebound off a counter rush to tie the game. His ninth goal of the season was a thing of beauty and the 100th of his career.
Giroux, stationed to the right of the goal and with his back to the net, whipped a backhander just over the glove and left shoulder of Columbus netminder Curtis McElhinney.
"I was right in front and I thought he was just going to shoot it back door for a rebound or whatever and I just saw it almost in slow motion go right in the top corner," said Flyers forward Scott Hartnell. "I was like 'oh my gosh that should be top on "SportsCenter" tonight.'"
Given the flagship program of ESPN's tendency to ignore hockey, that probably didn't happen, but fans of the Flyers certainly took notice that the victory moved Philadelphia into third place -- and yes, a playoff spot -- in the division.
Another benchmark surpassed was the .500 mark, with Philadelphia's eighth straight win at home giving the club a 16-15-4 record overall this season.
"That .500 mark, getting above it, didn't look like it was going to be tonight but I think (Giroux) put all 20 of us on his back and led us to a big victory," said Hartnell.
Make no mistake, Giroux is not the best player in the world. In fact, he isn't even the top skater in his division, one that features Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
But Giroux is the best player on the Flyers and the one that ultimately makes the offense go. That's why his current confidence-building streak is a good sign.
At the beginning of the season, it seemed as if the 25-year-old couldn't hit the net on the breakaway. Now he is scoring with his back to the play.
"Just that kind of game when you get the bounces. Sometimes you don't get the bounces, but we got it this time," said Giroux.
There is still plenty of hockey to be played and only four points stand between the Flyers and the seventh-place Blue Jackets, but it is a better position than Philadelphia could have hoped for back in mid-October.
12/20 12:58:43 ET