Flyers

Nearing 30, Claude Giroux reflects on his hectic decade

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Nearing 30, Claude Giroux reflects on his hectic decade

"Oh, Jesus!"

That was Claude Giroux's initial thought when I brought up the inevitability of his turning 30 this Friday. While teammates were jet-setting to the tropics during the bye week, Giroux is simply spending time with friends and family outside of Ottawa.

"If we stay at home and watch a movie, that's pretty good, too," said Giroux, who didn't envision any elaborate birthday plans. 

Certainly, age is just a number for a guy who has done nothing but put up big numbers since entering the NHL just 38 days after his 20th birthday.

"I always say you're as old as you feel, and I feel pretty good right now," Giroux said. "Time flies by to know that I've been in the league for 10 years. It's pretty crazy to think, but a lot of good things are in the future."

He can focus on the future now that he's buried the past this season.

Just a year ago, Giroux may have felt as if he was pushing 40 coming off a corrective core muscle procedure to his hip and abdomen areas that general manager Ron Hextall labeled a "maintenance surgery." Clearly, it was much more as Giroux struggled to be the dominant player he was in previous seasons. That burst of speed was missing and his confidence wasn't too far behind.

Admittedly, since the first day back in Voorhees, New Jersey, this past September, Giroux's been inspired and motivated to prove that the guy preparing to enter his 30s could be just as dominant as the player who brought a degree of wizardry to South Broad in his early-20s.

Throughout his first five years in the league, Giroux dazzled with dekes, toe drags and other shootout moves he perfected on the frozen pond of Northern Ontario. He played with a nasty edge, laying vicious checks to guys 15 and 20 pounds heavier than he was.

"It's the motivation to go out there and play and not think," Giroux said. "It's a lot different now. You have to really prepare more. You've got to take care of your body more. I've learned a lot and I've been able to take those life lessons and just grow with that."

He scored a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final at the age of 22, led the Flyers in scoring for the first time at 23 and was named the 19th team captain in franchise history, taking over for the injured Chris Pronger, just three days after his 25th birthday. For most players, that's a pretty distinguished career, but for Giroux, he was just getting started. 

Three months later came "The Shift," when he approached then-head coach Peter Laviolette and asked to take that opening shift in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Penguins. After laying out Sidney Crosby with an open-ice hit, Giroux proceeded to score the first goal of the game and later earned Laviolette's label as "the best player in the world."

"There's a lot I wish I would have known when I was 20, but when I was 20, I was lucky enough to have a coach and teammates to show me the way and help me be a player that I can be today," Giroux said. "I've learned a lot in those 10 years. I don't know if I'd change a lot in those 10 years."     

And why would he? If Giroux hasn't been the world's best player, he's come pretty close. Since 2010-11, only Crosby and Patrick Kane have scored more points. 

If the 20s can be considered a time of self-discovery, then the following decade is a period of refinement as Giroux will learn even more about himself as he grows older. Now engaged, he's planning to marry his fiancee Ryanne Breton this summer.

"It's crazy to think how young I was. I've got a lot of memories here in Philadelphia, not just on the ice but off the ice," Giroux said. "Hopefully, I've got 10 more years here."

And 10 more years to fulfill what has been a life-long commitment.

"Obviously when you do something in life, you want to be the best you can be," Giroux said. "I've dreamed since I was a little kid to win the Stanley Cup. Not being able to do that, that's my biggest motivation in hockey. I've got to take everything that I've learned and bring it to my game and get closer to my dream."

Flyers fueled by fast start vs. Devils

Flyers fueled by fast start vs. Devils

BOX SCORE

The Flyers had no problem getting up for a Saturday afternoon puck drop.

They jumped all over the New Jersey Devils at the Wells Fargo Center, doing all their damage in the first period en route to a 3-1 victory.

Travis Konecny, Valtteri Filppula and Ivan Provorov lit the lamp in the opening frame for a team that has often fought lackluster starts.

That was far from the case Saturday as the Flyers (22-16-8) have now won six of their last seven games. Over that span, they've outscored the opposition 28-19.

With the victory, they improved to 4-2-4 against the Metropolitan Division. Plenty more to come.

The Devils (24-13-8) entered in second place of the Metro but have had trouble against the orange and black thus far. The Flyers are 2-0-0 against New Jersey with two more games remaining in the regular-season series. It's a bit ironic the Flyers went 1-3-1 against a Devils team last season not nearly as strong, one that finished 28-40-14 with 70 points.

Hockey can be a weird game, huh?

Let's get into some observations:

• Shayne Gostisbehere can be so elusive with the puck, which, from a defenseman, is such a luxury for the Flyers. He exhibited that elusiveness early to jump-start the Flyers' first-period ignition. Gostisbehere took the puck from his own blue line and weaved through some Devils before finding a wide-open Konecny in the circle for a 1-0 lead at 3:29 of the opening frame.

• Speaking of Konecny, his goal and assist give him nine points in the last 10 games. In his previous 25 games, Konecny had four points. The 20-year-old is showing what he can do when playing in a prominent role: the first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Who could have known putting a talented kid with talented players would yield positive results?

• The Flyers really got after it with a much-needed fast start. Prior to then, we hadn't seen many of those through 45 games. The Flyers entered Saturday in a four-way tie for fewest leads after the first period with eight, going 6-0-2 in those contests. They had themselves a healthy 3-0 advantage at first intermission on Saturday behind a superb opening 20 minutes. The Devils had to pull starting goalie Keith Kinkaid, who was shaken up after surrendering the third marker.

• Filppula and Provorov scored the Flyers' other two first-period tallies. Michael Raffl got his stick on a bouncing pass to set up Filppula in front for his 10th of the season, his first double-digit-goal campaign since 2014-15. Meanwhile, Raffl quietly has 15 points in his last 25 games.

"We haven't been starting games how we would like," Filppula said at first intermission. "Today was a good start and it is obviously nice to get rewarded."

Provorov displayed some great resolve in front to finally finish off his goal.

The second-year blueliner also made a spectacular outlet pass in the second period that covered about three-quarters of the ice. Konecny was the beneficiary but misfired on the shot. Still, Provorov's play had fans ooh-ahhing.

• Raffl is as laid back and jovial of a player as you'll see on the Flyers' roster. He's not a fighter, but give him credit for always dropping the gloves whenever the opportunity calls for it. Devils defenseman John Moore called for it this time after Raffl inadvertently tripped Kinkaid. Raffl hung in there following a few early blows.

• The Flyers were bit undisciplined in the second period (two penalties) and missed a few opportunities offensively, but fortunately for them, it wasn't too costly thanks to such a positive first period. The Flyers permitted a power-play goal during the middle stanza and went 0 for 4 on the man advantage for the game. It didn't matter.

• Michal Neuvirth made a second consecutive start and was strong again, making 28 saves on 29 shots. In limited duty, he's 5-5-1 on the season and came in with a 2.35 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Solid stuff from Neuvirth.

• With Cory Schneider sick and Kinkaid's exit, emergency netminder Ken Appleby was forced into action and held his own. He stopped all 24 shots he faced in his NHL debut.

• It was the second NHL meeting between 2017 top-two picks Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Hischier finished with no points for the Devils in 17:04 of ice time, while Patrick played 11:37 and went scoreless. His line did good work, though.

• Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim was scratched for the eighth time in the last nine games, while forward Taylor Leier sat for a second straight game in favor of Tyrell Goulbourne.

• Eagles defensive back Corey Graham was in the house. Sounds like Philly is ready for 6:40 p.m. Sunday.

• Things don't get easier for the Flyers, who are right back at it Sunday with a 12:30 p.m. puck drop in Washington D.C. against the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals on NBC. 

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).