For the last three games, the Flyers have had no sustained forecheck, no emotion, no answers in their Eastern Conference semifinals against the surging New Jersey Devils.
And, now, as they try to stave off elimination in Game 5 on Tuesday, they have no Claude Giroux, the star center who leads the NHL with 17 points in this year’s playoffs.
Does that mean they have no chance?
In a twisted way, not having their superstar center – suspended by the NHL on Monday for a head hit on the Devils’ Dainius Zubrus on Sunday – may unify the Flyers and give them a rallying cry.
That’s their hope, anyway.
And, hey, if you’ve watched how the Devils have embarrassed the Flyers over the last three games, all with Giroux in the lineup, you know the Orange and Black need something, anything, to wake them out of their malaise.
You don’t have to look too far to find teams that rallied without star players in this year’s playoffs.
Pittsburgh did it in Game 4 of the conference quarterfinals against the Flyers, missing three suspended players – including winger James Neal, a 40-goal scorer this season – and registering a 10-3 victory.
New Jersey did it in Game 2 against the Flyers as standout winger Ilya Kovalchuk was sidelined with a back injury. Final: Devils 4, Flyers 1.
Giroux will obviously be missed. He plays in all situations, and plays harder than anyone on the team.
The Flyers will need everyone to raise their level to make up for his absence, and it will be intriguing to see how they react. They responded all season without their official captain, the injured Chris Pronger. Now they will try to do it without their unofficial captain.
The suspension seemed to surprise the Flyers. After all, there have been worse hits (see Nashville’s Shea Weber and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in two different incidents) in this year’s playoffs that did not draw suspensions. And the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin didn’t even have a hearing after two questionable hits against the Flyers in Round 1.
For the most part, it seemed like stars were being spared. Or given light punishment. Take Neal, a repeat offender, getting just a one-game suspension after making a run at Giroux and LEAVING HIS FEET to hit Sean Couturier’s head on the same shift.
Based on those incidents, it’s easy to understand why many thought Giroux would be fined, but not suspended. He had no past history, and he didn’t leave his feet to hit Zubrus.
“It’s no fun; it’s not what we were looking for,” center Danny Briere said of Giroux’s suspension. “Obviously when your best player is going to miss a crucial game, it (hurts). But you know what, it’s our season (Tuesday) and there’s no time to sit back and complain. If we did, it would be wasted energy. It is what it is and we can’t change anything. At the end of the day, we have to move forward and have to find a way to win.”
Giroux said it was not his intention to hit Zubrus in the head.
“That’s not the kind of player I am,” he said.
That kind of explanation helped Neal in his hearing with Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s discipline czar.
It didn’t help Giroux.
Without the shifty center, the Flyers figure to insert winger Zac Rinaldo into the lineup. Rinaldo gives the team energy, not scoring. The scoring will have to come from players who have been mostly non-factors in this series. Guys like Wayne Simmonds and Jaromir Jagr, among others.
Giroux’s absence will give others more minutes, and there’s a chance Andrej Meszaros returns and bolsters a sagging defense. Will they flourish or will the Flyers _ who were 3-2-1 against the Devils in the regular season and had one more point than New Jersey _ continue their freefall and be able to get tee times on Wednesday?
“Somehow, we have to make it work,” said Briere about another night of revamped lines. “Everybody has to dig deep. It’s one game. It’s not like it’s the rest of the playoffs without Claude.”
Well, it is if the Flyers suffer their fourth straight defeat.
“We have to find a way to win,” Briere said, “and go from there.”
Contact Sam Carchidi at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BroadStBull.