A lot has gone wrong for the Philadelphia Flyers this season. But they’ve excelled at late-game comebacks.
On Sunday, the Flyers eked out a win for the sixth time this season when trailing after two periods. And they did it in dramatic fashion.
Captain Clutch Strikes Again
Down 3-1 against the New Jersey Devils with less than three minutes left in regulation, it looked like the Devils were about to snap their nine-game losing streak and the Flyers were going to come one step closer to official playoff elimination.
With 2:39 remaining, Sean Couturier lined up for an offensive-zone faceoff against Michael McLeod as Alain Vigneault lifted goaltender Brian Elliott in favor of the extra attacker.
Sixty-three seconds later, with the same six Flyers still on the ice, the puck was in the net. Claude Giroux fired a close-in wrist shot that went through the legs of Pavel Zacha and beat Mackenzie Blackwood to the blocker side.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 26, 2021
After Vigneault called a timeout, Giroux won the draw at center ice against Miles Wood, and needed just 22 seconds to repeat his feat.
This time, from the opposite side of the net, he deflected the puck over Blackwood’s left shoulder.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 26, 2021
Both scoring plays were the same: Giroux from James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek. Then, in a six-round shootout, Giroux, Couturier and Kevin Hayes beat Blackwood, giving the Flyers the unlikely 4-3 win.
“He’s one of the most competitive human beings out there,” Couturier said after Sunday’s game. “Anything he does, he wants to win. I think it reflects on everyone on the team — you have no choice but to follow up. That’s what makes him such a great leader, great captain.”
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Giroux’s Flyers Legacy
Giroux has been a polarizing player during his career with the Flyers. When he’s at his best, as he was in the third period on Sunday, he’s virtually unstoppable. He raises expectations so high that when he pulls his occasional disappearing acts, fans are left frustrated and disappointed.
This year, he’s not matching his 102-point performance from the 2017-18 season, when he finished fourth in Hart Trophy balloting. But with 35 points in 43 games, his 0.76 points per game are almost identical to last season — which is saying something when so many of his teammates have regressed.
Even as he has aged, he has remained durable. Since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, he has missed just eight games in total. A two-game absence in February due to Covid-19 ended a 328-game Ironman streak.
Giroux has one year remaining on his current contract — an eight-year extension, signed at age 25 during the summer of 2013. It carries what’s currently a team-high cap hit of $8.275 million per season.
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He’s also climbing the Flyers’ all-time record lists.
His 850th career point on Sunday moved him into third place in that category, ahead of Brian Propp. Bill Barber sits second at 883 and Bobby Clarke is the runaway leader at 1,210.
Giroux is already second to Clarke in games played (935 vs. 1,144) and assists (580 vs. 852). When the performance numbers are adjusted for era, according to Hockey Reference, the gaps narrow even further.
Asked about possibly catching Clarke one day, Giroux said on Monday, “That’s a lot of points to get there.”
Based on his current points-per-game average, he’d need about another 480 games, or nearly six more seasons — with no serious injuries or dips in productivity.
But the captain certainly sounds like he’d like to give it a shot while finishing his career in the orange and black. “To play for one team your whole career, that’s something to be proud of,” he said. “If I can, that’d be great.”
Even with his Giroux’s big ticket, Alain Vigneault sounds like a coach who believes his captain will be an important part of the roster next season, even after Chuck Fletcher is expected to undertake a fairly significant overhaul.
“One thing that everybody knows who has been around G, and you guys have been around him much more than I have, is his desire to win, his desire to compete,” Vigneault said Sunday. “Thats’ what you need from your captain. That’s what you need from your driving force. He’s doing everything he can to steer the ship in the right direction.”
As the four-game series against the Devils continues on Tuesday in Newark, Vigneault will be making one lineup change. Lanky defenseman Egor Zamula, signed as a free agent in 2018, will be making his NHL debut, following the recent paths of Wade Allison and Jackson Cates.
The 21-year-old has five assists in 17 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season.