Many fans of the Philadelphia Flyers were beginning to get antsy after the Pittsburgh Penguins won Games 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to pull to within 3-2 for the series. Having become just the third team in NHL history to come back from an 0-3 deficit to defeat the Boston Bruins during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, no one in the City of Brotherly Love wanted to see the other side of the situation by having the hated Penguins become the fourth.
As the club required someone to lead the way, Claude Giroux stepped up and wasted no time in setting the tone for Game 6.
Just five seconds after the opening face off, Giroux leveled Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby with a hard, clean hit right in front of the Pittsburgh bench. The hit sent Crosby flying, and sent the Wells Fargo Center into a state of pandemonium.
In conjunction with what happened moments later, the 24-year-old native of Hearst, Ont. showed that as the face of the Flyers' franchise, he was taking charge of the eventual outcome of the afternoon.
Jaromir Jagr beat Kris Letang to the puck at center ice, started a rush towards the Pens' zone and sent a pass across to Giroux, who cut towards the slot. His snap shot from the inside of the left circle beat Marc-Andre Fleury on the short side, giving Philadelphia an early lead.
After just 32 short seconds of play, Giroux had already established his presence in two gigantic ways for a club looking for the knockout punch it had lacked over the course of Games 4 and 5.
Giroux lept up against the glass, and you could see him yelling to his teammates, "Let's go!"
They were all too happy to follow.
"Claude called it for me before the start of the game," said Maxime Talbot. "He said, 'I'm going to have a great first shift.' I didn't know what it meant, and he was physical and he scored a goal, so that's what a leader would do. Claude definitely set up the tone early for us tonight."
Linemate Scott Hartnell agreed, and said he could tell as soon as he got to the arena that Giroux was going to have a difference-making game.
"G's probably the biggest competitor that I have ever played with," said the left winger of the ultra-competitive Giroux. "He wants to win so bad. 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."
Following Game 5, Giroux pointed out that his team hadn't put together a full, 60-minute effort during the entire series.
One of the big reasons for the club's offensive explosion -- a team-record 30 goals in the six game set -- is the tremendous amount of success experienced by the Flyers' power play, which is quarterbacked by Giroux. After going 1-3 on Sunday, the man advantage unit finished the series at a blistering 12-23, or a sizzling 52.1 percent. The 12 PP goals set a Philadelphia record for a single postseason series, passing the former mark of 11, which was set against these same Penguins in 1989.
"We played the whole year with the same power play, pretty much," said Giroux. "We kind of know what the other guys are going to do, and we support each other pretty good. We try to put pucks on net and (Wayne) Simmonds is probably the best to get the garbage in front of the net, he puts everything in the net and Hartsy's strong stick. They make our jobs easier, those two guys. They're playing great."
Even after being held off the scoreboard in Philly's Game 1 victory, Giroux finished the series with with points in each of the final five contests. His six goals and 14 points, which included a tremendous six-point performance (three goals, three assists) in Game 2's comeback effort, was one of the most memorable outputs in Flyers' history.
The dynamo ended up with two goals and 3 assists while working with the man advantage during the series, as well as scoring once while the team was shorthanded and assisting on both of Talbot's two shorthanders.
Peter Laviolette was asked if he felt with the performance that Giroux was taking the next step in the leadership department.
"Not only leadership, but his game tonight was monstrous, it really was," said the head coach. "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."
That is some high praise from Laviolette, indeed, who then added some more.
"Claude had a great game, from start to finish, he made sure that the Flyers moved on to the second round. Along with every other guy in that locker room. But, it does have to be led somewhere, and when your best players make a statement like that, that's exactly what you need to happen."
"Right off the bat, being able to get that first goal was huge to get the momentum," Giroux said. "The fans right away got into the game, and then we closed the door."
And it was their best player -- the very face of the franchise, if you will -- that slammed the door tightly on the Penguins.