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Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 60: NSH 4, PHI 5 – G-oodbye

It wasn’t the send-off we wanted — preferably, there wouldn’t be any need for one. But it was the send-off that Claude Giroux, one of the greatest Flyers of all-time and players of his era, deserved. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 60: NSH 4, PHI 5 – G-oodbye, Claude Giroux

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the case, it might be impossible to fully measure the impact Claude Giroux has had on the Philadelphia Flyers organization and the City of Brotherly Love.

Granted, measuring Giroux’s impact might still be impossible even if that cliché isn’t true. Perhaps nothing else stands out more when looking back on a player who has spent such a long time playing, especially for one team, especially one at as high a level as Giroux, than time. It’s reflected by showcasing jerseys past in GIFs and old pics; a 20-year-old from Hearst, Ontario who looked like he was going on 12 front-and-center. It’s reflected in grainy highlights from the beginning days of a player whose first act as a member of an NHL organization was having his name forgotten, then playing parts of fifteen seasons (roughly 13.5 years worth of games) with a hunger that ensured it will be remembered for a long, long time.

A lot of Giroux’s impact is reflected in the past. Some of that is with the barometers so often used when a player hits such a significant milestone as 1,000 games played. The songs or movies that topped the charts when a player debuted. How far off it was from the invention of the first iPhone. The age (or lack thereof) of social media mammoths like Twitter and Facebook. And so on and so on until even those of us younger than Giroux was when his Flyers journey began in 2006 feel old.

But most significantly, it is remembered in the countless pictures of past memories. There are a lot of them for any of the 368 players who have played 1,000 games in the NHL. But they generally mean more for the 71 who have reached that milestone with one team. “Playing 1,000 games for one organization, I think, doesn’t happen often anymore,” said Giroux on Wednesday after the team’s practice. “So it was important to do this.”

Few players in recent memory are more synonymous with a team, especially one team, as Giroux is with the Flyers. That connection didn’t come instantly. Claude Giroux’s entrance to the NHL was choppy, though it had the chance to be magical. With both the Flyers and the Phantoms ravaged with injuries, the Flyers gave Giroux, who was in the middle of his third straight 100-plus point season with the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques, an emergency call-up; on the road against his hometown Ottawa Senators, nonetheless.

Giroux didn’t score, though he was stymied on a crafty shootout attempt. After another game, he was sent back to junior as required as the team got healthier. He spent the first half of 2008-09 with the Phantoms, before finally being called up in December. He played four games, then missed two weeks. Four games later — nearly a year after his NHL debut — Claude Giroux finally scored his first NHL goal.

Giroux's First NHL Goal | NHL.com
Just 15 days after his 21st birthday, Giroux celebrates his first NHL goal, a glove-side wrist shot on a breakaway against the Florida Panthers, the reported front-runners to acquire Giroux just over 13 years later. (Photo: NHL)

It would take another year or so for Giroux to deliver his first signature moment in Orange and Black. Giroux was already a solid player when the Flyers took the ice for their final game of the 2009-10 regular season. The stakes could not have been any higher. The winner would head to the playoffs; the loser would have nothing to do except perhaps book some tee times. With the game tied at 1-1 through 65 minutes, the shootout, in just its fifth year of existence in the NHL, decided both teams’ fates.

Fittingly, the skills contest was also tied 1-1 through two rounds, becoming sudden death. Head coach Peter Laviolette didn’t call on former 40-goal scorer Jeff Carter to take potentially the final shot of the Flyers’ season. Or recent No. 2 overall pick James van Riemsdyk. Or the team’s longest-tenured player, Simon Gagne, and his then 259 career goals, all scored in Orange and Black. He picked Giroux, setting the sophomore forward up for a showdown with one of the league’s greatest goaltenders, a fellow future Hall of Famer in Henrik Lundqvist.

The King never stood a chance.

28 Memorable Giroux Moments
Giroux, a player known for his magical hands (especially on shootouts), had the presence of mind to be patient and wait for space. He found some, five-hole, that led to countless high-fives over the next two months. (Photo: Philadelphia Flyers)

That goal (and the ensuing save by Brian Boucher that officially clinched their playoff spot) slingshotted the Flyers on one of the most dramatic playoff runs in NHL history. Giroux was right at the center of it. He was the first star in the team’s series-clinching Game 5 win in Round 1 against the Devils. His ridiculous puck-protection work in the waning moments of Game 7 of the Flyers’ epic second-round comeback against the Bruns was legendary. Pierre McGuire proclaimed him a “superstar” in the closing moments of a two-goal effort in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final. But it was his series-swinging overtime goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against Chicago that stands, for many, as the crowning jewel of Giroux’s Flyers career.

Remarkable Flyers bounce back again | The Star
Giroux’s awkward but amazing deflection just trickled through Chicago goaltender Antti Niemi, securing Philadelphia’s first Stanley Cup Final game win in 23 years. (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

Following the same-day blockbuster trades of then-captain Mike Richards and leading goal scorer Carter in June 2011, a new era of Flyers hockey began, with Giroux right at the forefront. Chris Pronger was named captain for the 2011-12 team after Richards’ departure. But he played just twelve games before suffering a career-ending eye injury. Giroux was there to pick up the slack. Largely playing on a line impossible not to love alongside Scott Hartnell and Jaromír Jágr, Giroux exploded for a career-high 93 points and lead the Flyers into a tense first-round matchup with their archrivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Giroux took the anger that came from his first career playoff run ending at the Penguins’ hands in 2009 to deliver a historic performance in every facet. His Game 2 efforts, a hat-trick and franchise-record tying six points in one playoff game, will go down in the history books. His Gordie Howe Hat Trick in Game 3 (including a scrap with Crosby) shows the incredible range of his game; Giroux was never the biggest guy, but standing in his path has never been an enviable position. But his brilliance in the opening 32 seconds of Game 6 will headline in the hearts of countless Flyers fans and even more highlight reels.

Flyers impressed that Claude Giroux demanded first shift | ProHockeyTalk |  NBC Sports
“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.” – Peter Laviolette, after the Flyers finished off the 5-1 win that Giroux’s first-minute rampage kickstarted. (Photo: NBC Sports)

Giroux’s 2012 playoff performance was nothing short of stellar. Despite only playing in 10 playoff games, Giroux’s eight goals were tied for most of any player in the playoffs. But hard times fell on the Flyers shortly thereafter. They were eliminated in the second round of the 2012 playoffs in swift fashion by the Devils. Then found themselves out of the playoffs altogether in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, their first miss in six years. Things took a total nosedive to start the 2013-14 season. The team lost their first three games. They fired head coach Peter Laviolette. And then the Flyers promptly lost four of their first five under interim coach Craig Berube.

But the Flyers went as Giroux went that season. And after an Olympic snub from Team Canada, where Crosby’s teammate but a merely solid NHLer (albeit one in a career year) in Chris Kunitz made it over the relatively-newly minted Flyers captain, Giroux reached an entirely different stratosphere. When the league returned from the Olympics in late February, Giroux was on another level. He scored a league-leading 29 points in just 23 games to finish the regular season. None were more memorable than Giroux answering announcer Jim Jackson’s hopes for a miracle in the waning seconds of overtime against Chicago.

Morning After: Giroux's heroics continue stellar season - Sports Talk  Philly: Philadelphia Sports News and Rumors
Mid-career Giroux could get fired up like no one else; sometimes for worse, but always beloved when it was for better. (Photo: Sports Talk Philly via ESPN.com)

Following the Flyers’ first-round exit to the Rangers that spring, Giroux somewhat fell into the shadows. After a three-year run where some were wondering where he ranked among the best in the sport, Giroux was arguably not even the best player on a trio of middling Flyers teams from 2015-2017. He was still playing at a high level, although his point totals were slowly declining. But there were reasons, not excuses, for this. Giroux played through injury during the 2016 stretch run and playoffs. Then he spent the 2016-17 season fighting off the effects of hip and abdominal surgeries after Philadelphia’s first-round loss to Washington in 2016.

Meanwhile, the two main Robins to Giroux’s Batman spent a bit more time playing hero themselves. First, Jake Voráček tallied an 81-point 2014-15 season (T-4th in the league). Then Wayne Simmonds put together consecutive 30-plus-goal campaigns, including a two-goal effort in the Flyers’ playoff-clinching win on the penultimate day of the 2015-16 regular season (the first of which Giroux assisted on, as he certainly wasn’t without memorable moments during the somewhat murky middle of his career).

But the captain wouldn’t lay down for long. Thanks to a move to left wing and the subsequent chance to play with Sean Couturier, who was ready to take a step forward himself, Claude Giroux didn’t just bounce back in 2017-18; he broke through the glass ceiling. Through 81 games, the Flyers captain had already set career-highs in all major statistical categories. He’d returned to the shortlist of the game’s elite players. But his work in Philadelphia’s final game — a 5-0 playoff-clinching win over the Rangers that not only included his first career regular-season hat trick but made him the first Flyer to push past the 100-point threshold since Eric Lindros 23 years prior — turned a great year into one for the ages.

Captain Clutch
In the ultimate team sport, Giroux has naturally always tried to talk up the importance of his teammates, especially after becoming captain. But there was no escaping the well-deserved spotlight of his magical playoff-clinching performance in 2018; which turned out to be Giroux’s final playoff appearance in front of the Flyers faithful. (Photo: Philadelphia Flyers)

Of course, Giroux’s heroics weren’t reserved for playoff or (essentially) play-in games; you don’t rack up 900 points without filling in the margins between the headline contests. The 2019 Stadium Series was a bit of both. Outdoor games are always exciting. But the Flyers were barely clinging to any semblance of playoff life heading into the rainy, bone-chilling evening. And down 3-1 with less than five minutes to play, it looked like there would be no meaning for the freezing of the tens of thousands decked out in Orange and Black; at least not a reason worth the trouble. But when the precipitation and dust settled, the only thing that provided more chills than the weather was Giroux’s overtime winner to cap off the first multi-goal third-period comeback in an outdoor game in NHL history.

Top 5 quotes from Flyers-Penguins 2019 Stadium Series | RSN
From a pure photographic sense, this may have been Giroux’s peak. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)

But what we saw of Claude Giroux tonight is something we’ve seldom seen before. If there’s one thing Giroux’s legendary Flyers career has lacked, it’s recognition. Giroux has always received that from the organization itself. The eight-year, $66.2 million contract Giroux signed on July 4, 2013, is evidence of that. Giroux’s contract was just about the only one then-GM Paul Holmgren was willing to include a no-move clause with. And Giroux did win the Bobby Clarke Award for Flyers MVP five times.

But other than a second-team All-Star selection in 2018 and a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (plus an easy to forget and fairly trivial 2022 All-Star Game MVP), Claude Giroux’s hardware cabinet is far emptier than it should be. Even within the city, it never felt like Giroux was on the same podium as the stars surrounding him. Part of that is due to the team’s shortcomings in the standings. Hockey being the least popular of the four major sports certainly didn’t help.

Nationally, it was probably even worse. Giroux’s heroics down the stretch and downright excellence all season in 2017-18 somehow weren’t enough to earn him even a nomination for the Hart Trophy. In a decade where he finished fourth in the league in scoring, Giroux was only a finalist for a major award once, finishing 3rd in Hart Trophy (MVP) voting in 2013-14. Even the one honor he did win shows how little the hockey world really knew about Claude Giroux. Despite spending the entire 2017-18 at left wing, Giroux received All-Star votes at left wing, center, and right wing; the last of which a position he hadn’t played in over half a decade.

The good news is that has changed over the last few months; it’s hard to read an article about the NHL nowadays and not see Giroux’s name appear in a glowing light. The bad news is the reason why; his time in Philadelphia is all but up. “It’s a fun night, but not really,” Giroux affirmed. The send-off itself for Giroux couldn’t have been better. The pre-game ceremony was as well-done as you’ll see, with Giroux’s oldest son Gavin stealing the show and the Flyers truly honoring Giroux in every sense of the word. From custom commemorative tickets to a one-night concessions special of grilled cheese (Giroux’s favorite food), the night was all about the captain.

Giroux had some great looks in the early going. But it was his teammates that stole the show in between the whistles. Sometimes it was for worse, as the Flyers coughed up a 3-1 lead, wasting an outstanding first period. But after receiving a deflating ruling — a potential late equalizer was waved off due to a high-stick earlier in the sequence — the Flyers did something they’ve done so rarely this season: bounceback. They got a bounce on a Rasmus Ristolainen net-front toss that caromed in off Kevin Hayes’ skate. Hayes then reversed roles and set up Joel Farabee, who Giroux said earlier would “break all (his) records” as a Flyer, for a game-winning tap-in with just 1:19 to play. Even for a Flyers team as dismal at closing games as this one, the Flyers knew they couldn’t let their captain down.

“Incredibly emotional for G in particular and obviously all of us, his teammates,” said Mike Yeo. “It’s hard to put it into words I guess, but I’m just really happy for him, to get this win and to have it happen like this. I think his teammates did a great job tonight.”

Of course, the worst part of the send-off is the other side of the coin that makes Giroux’s time in Philadelphia so memorable: the pictures of past memories. Or at the very least, the memories that could have been. The end of a legend’s time with their team, especially the one that drafted them, is always emotional. The cold truth is the more successful you are, the easier the goodbye is to swallow. There is plenty of blame to go around when deciding why the Flyers, in ten seasons with Giroux as their captain, advanced to the second round just once — and never further. It’s heartbreaking the Flyers never surrounded Giroux with a Cup-contention-worthy supporting cast; save for maybe the 2019-20 team, whose Cup odds almost certainly would’ve been better if the season had just finished as originally planned.

No, Claude Giroux isn’t entirely blameless for those failures, especially in his last few playoff trips. But spending any more time exploring that avenue or trying to decide just how much Giroux shoulders risks missing the point entirely. Championships are what every fanbase craves, and Philadelphia fans are certainly no exception. In fact, they might be the rule themselves. But win, lose, or draw, there is a type of player that will always endear themselves in Philly. Being good helps. But it takes much more than that. You have to give it your very all, all day and every day. You have to do the little, uncomfortable things that help your team win. Ok, maybe not in your 1,000th game. But in every other game, that’s a requirement.

There are so many ways you can capture how much Claude Giroux meant to the Philadelphia Flyers. The stats. The “C.” The pictures. But to the people who love him the most, it’s reflected in these words. “I feel like I’ve had a great relationship with the fans and this city,” said an emotional Giroux. “I get them. They get me. I love them.”

It didn’t take 1,000 games for Giroux to make his mark on the team, their fans, and the city. It’s what made them love him so much, and he love them the same. And it’s what makes this moment so difficult. “I’ve seen a lot of players that I played with that I liked and I know it’s tough when you leave a team, but I actually didn’t realize how tough it is,” said Giroux. His (likely) final words as a Flyer were these: “I wish I knew back then but it’s not something that is really fun.”

So much of what happened tonight would have seemed out of place if not for the person it was honoring. A bottom-five team doesn’t draw a near sell-out crowd on a weeknight against a non-conference opponent for an ordinary game. The Flyers have made a habit of wilting with the game on the line this season. They probably don’t find a way to win without the extra situated motivation. They have lost games with added emotional reasons before. But this one was different. “After the game, (my teammates) gave me the Player of the Game Sweater — which I did not deserve one bit,” Giroux quipped. Even the ceremony was a bit out of place in the grand scheme of things; Claude Giroux very well may be the first player to receive their reaching 1,000 games played ceremony before actually playing in their 1,000th game itself.

Now, the Flyers depart for Ottawa, the place where Giroux’s career began. Their captain, however, is staying behind. There are so many feelings running through everyone involved; especially for Claude and his wife Ryanne. The joy, the sadness, the glee, the frustration, the excitement, the disappointment — the tears, both good and bad. They’re all a part of Giroux’s time in Philadelphia, long before tonight. But never all together like this. It takes a special type of person — not just an athlete, but a person — to create such a feeling. And that is why Claude Giroux will go down as one of the greatest Flyers ever. One of the greatest athletes in the history of Philadelphia. Why he could (if not should) one day find himself in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It was Maya Angelou who said, “People will forget what you say, and people will forget what you do, but no one will ever forget the way you make them feel.” One day, in the far distant future, Giroux’s dekes, chirps, and silky smooth hands will be forgotten. Giroux’s legacy ultimately isn’t measured in the attempted one-timed blasts so hard he’d fall down. Or the piles of shattered sticks broken in moments of frustration both big and small. Not even in the stats or the wins and the losses. It is measured in whatever you are feeling right now. There is no higher compliment you can pay a person than that. Claude Giroux, who both on and off the ice has always been at his best when helping others, would probably say the same.

Thousands of words for one thousand games. Oh captain, my captain.
“There are certain feelings that can never be replicated and that is why they occupy a special place.” – Matt Gelb. Soak in whatever you are feeling about Claude Giroux; it is probably one of those feelings. (Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer)

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