Monday, April 23, 2012

Claude Giroux: Man on a mission that is just underway

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

On a dreary afternoon in a cold, antiseptic building which once again assumed the rabid personality of its sellout crowd, the Philadelphia Flyers beat the rival Pittsburgh Penguins and eliminated them in a playoff series four games to two.

They did not fend off an invading horde of Persians while severely outnumbered.

Nor did they slay a mythical dragon, as we've been told St. George did.

They didn't even beat the defending Stanley Cup champions, so pardon me if I keep the hyperbole packed away for at least one more best-of-seven course.

But there is one man who is worthy of appreciation this morning, the player people in certain quarters are falling all over themselves to proclaim as next year's captain: Claude Giroux.

He's good...but not yet great. Still, the whispers of leadership have appeared to finally catch his ear. Like the old NBC hospital drama, ER, Giroux has heard the words of his predecessor echoing through the WFC hallways and tunnels: Set The Tone.

So that's what the 23-year-old from Hearst, Ontario did during his first turn on ice:




It wasn't completely unexpected.

"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," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette.

What drove the point home on the opening sequence was not the check on Crosby, but the excess burn-off of emotion -- his scream of triumph to his own bench, and the punch to the glass as fans in some of the most expensive seats in the house cheered him on.

"He was possessed. I think he set the tone, just plain and simple, as that he just said I want to win,” added Danny Briere, a veteran of some pretty wild playoffs, both here and in Buffalo.


But there are at least two more rounds to go before the chase for the ultimate prize begins, and though Giroux has started to write the opening chapters of his Philadelphia legend, he still stands in the shadow of Mike Richards.

You know, former captain, now in Los Angeles, author of the original "Shift?" Here's a refresher course:




Richards sure didn't have the dazed look of a player tired of dealing with the media, nor the thousand-yard stare of a young man needing a change of scenery. This Mike Richards was fully bearded, bearing down and ready to do whatever it took to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

That was the "likeable" Richards, in contrast to the picture that was painted until the wake-up call of a trade to LA was made last June.

My, how soon we are asked to forget.

"G's probably the biggest competitor that I have ever played with. He wants to win so bad," said linemate Scott Hartnell. "I could tell right when I got to the rink this morning that he was fired up and ready to go. When you hit like that on the first shift, that's our best guy in here and he played a great game tonight."

Does Giroux have another, more important, bigger "shift" in him? At least one teammate believes so.

"Claude, to me, he’s the best player in the league right now and he’s our motor…engine, when he goes, we go," added Kimmo Timonen, the man who is the unofficial leader as the most senior member of the team.    

Whenever it may come, it most likely won't be part of a torrid, record scoring pace. The luxury of playing an offensive juggernaut like Pittsburgh is a return to free-flowing, skilled hockey, which helped produce his 14-point series effort.

The remaining potential Conference Semifinal opponents: Boston, Washington, New York, Ottawa all stress a more defensive-oriented, technical style of hockey with plenty of board-rattling to boot compared to the Penguins.

Still, no matter the time, or place, or score, all the greats need is one chance to shine when it counts the most: Bobby Clarke in 1974, overtime Game 2 of the Finals. Dave Poulin in Game 6 against Quebec in '85. Pelle Eklund's electric Games 3 and 4 at the Forum in the '87 Wales Finals. Eric Lindros hooking Messier to finish off his hat trick in Game 3 of the East Finals in '97. Richards and Montreal.

Giroux is off to a great start. And that's a big boost towards a better finish.
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