Did it look as wide open as Steve Yzerman’s throat? Probably not, but whatever the Flyers captain envisioned himself shooting at, he stuffed that puck from the top of the circle through Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds and arguably the greatest goalie of all time into the top of the net.
It didn’t put Giroux on Team Canada, but at 5:18 into the third period, it lifted the Flyers into a 1-1 tie on their way to a 3-2 overtime victory over the rival Devils, a good night’s work to end a day that started badly for a prideful superstar when he was denied by Canada GM Yzerman of the privilege of playing in next month’s Olympics.
“I mean yeah, anytime somebody takes something away from you, you want to prove them wrong,” said Giroux. “But you know, I put that behind me.
“I just have to continue to play my game out there. It’s a fun game, I’m not going to stress myself for that.”
The captain, shunned for one of the game’s great honors largely because unlike Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews, Giroux couldn’t bring a good Flyer linemate with him, decided not to sweat the Canadian mucketymucks. Instead No. 28 worked up a good sweat that turned a bad Flyers first period into a remarkable sixth winning rally from a third-period deficit in their last 16 games.
“I thought Giroux played an outstanding game from start to finish,” said Coach Craig Berube. “I thought he was physical, competed, did everything possible out there.”
This included fulfilling the prophesy of linemate Jake Voracek, who predicted Tuesday morning that Giroux would use his disappointment for fuel. Indeed, the captain set an example for his team through another routine shrug off of late-game adversity.
Michael Ryder’s shorthanded tying goal with 30 seconds to play became possible because 1) Brayden Schenn had not lifted an insurance goal over Brodeur’s glove with a minute to go and 2) Giroux left his feet to block a shot that Marek Zidlicky never took. But to this team of surging confidence, redemption always seems one play away.
Seconds after Stephen Gionta slid what would have been the winning goal into the goalpost, Schenn -- who had been cut across his stomach by Dainus Zubrus’s skate in the second period then fed a give-and-go return pass to Scott Hartnell to set up the Flyer lead goal with 10 minutes to go -- one-timed a Nick Grossman feed past Brodeur to win the game.
Thus the Flyers completed either a stupendous 5-1 road trip or, considering they slept in their own beds on Sunday night, a satisfying, solitary bus trip victory to a place where, save in the 2010 playoffs, they have struggled since its 2007 opening.
“It was a 1-0 trip,” smiled Berube. “I looked at Phoenix like I did Chicago at end of the last (big) trip.”
Chicago turned out badly, so Phoenix – another night, another third period rally -- was a big step up. Tuesday night was one more, thanks to goalie Ray Emery’s excellent work. He gave up impossible-to-stop backdoor goals in the first minute to Adam Henrique (after Grossman bought an inside-outside move by Jaromir Jagr) and last minute (to Michael Ryder after Zidlicky beat Giroux), but nothing in between.
“[Emery] was very good,” said Berube. In fact, most of the Flyers were after what appeared to be a road-weary first period.
“We hung in there against a team that is very tough to play against,” said Berube.
For that matter, so did the Devils against a guy very tough to play against even when he isn’t mad and pretending not to be. The Flyers, trusting their system and each other during a 21-10-4 surge that has followed the 1-7 start, have learned to stay the course. But of course, there can be no comeback unless somebody makes a big play or a shot.
The power play had good puck movement in four previous opportunities to precede the third-period breakthrough, but Flyers shooters too often missed the net until Giroux didn’t.
“The [Devils] have a good defensive players, they can take the lane away pretty good,” said Voracek. “But we got a G on our side."
“We’re all disappointed for him, but he doesn’t take [things] the wrong way. He doesn’t cry, just works even harder, what makes him such a special player.”
That Flyers power play, on which the Devils tied the game with Brodeur pulled, came about when Adam Henrique swung his stick around and inadvertently caught Giroux in the face. He didn’t bleed, just as Tuesday morning, he didn’t cry.
Yzerman hinted after his announcement of his team that the Flyer captain’s hopes might still might be alive in case of injury. There is still a month to go until Sochi, which won’t be easy come, easy go for an athlete this prideful, no matter what he maintains.
Quite the consolation, however, is that the Flyers are winning.
“I’ve accepted I am not going to be on the (Olympic) team,” said Giroux. “There are a lot of good players out there so it’s not an easy thing picking the team.
“Right now I’m just worried about the Flyers and winning games. We’re having fun right now so I’m a pretty happy guy.”