Claude Giroux is so hot, he scores points in his sleep these days.
Hours after the Flyers defeated Carolina, 4-3, on Thursday, the NHL added assists for Brandon Manning and Giroux on Michael Raffl’s first-period goal, pushing the Flyers captain to within one point of 100 with one game remaining and into sole possession of second place behind Connor McDavid (106) in the NHL scoring race.
He also took sole possession of first in assists with 68.
“It’s closer to 100, yeah,’’ Giroux said. “But the priority is to win the game [Saturday].’’
The Flyers need at least a point in the final regular-season game Saturday against the Rangers to ensure a playoff berth. They can also back in via a Florida loss to Buffalo on Saturday or against the Bruins on Sunday night. Should the Flyers fail to get a point Saturday and the Panthers win out without the aid of two shootouts, Florida would instead gain the Eastern Conference’s last wild-card spot based on a greater number of victories in regulation and overtime.
“We know it won’t be easy,’’ Giroux said. “I think the focus is where it needs to be right now. We have to focus on our play, not on Florida. We’re in control here. We just have to go out there, play the game hard, and have fun.’’
Giroux, whose third-period goal gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead Thursday, needs a point to become the first Flyer to reach 100 points in a season since Eric Lindros posted 115 in 1995-96. He would become the sixth player in franchise history to reach the mark, joining Bobby Clarke, Mark Recchi, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, and Lindros.
Clarke did it three times, Recchi twice.
Giroux’s goal Thursday was his 31st, already a career high, and his fifth goal in a nine-game point streak in which he has amassed 16 points overall. The Flyers have won five of those games and gained a point in three others, allowing them to be in position to clinch a playoff berth after missing out last season.
It would be further affirmation for a player whose struggles with injuries over previous seasons created wide speculation that he was in decline. An intense offseason of training, improved health, and a switch during preseason from center to left wing changed that.
There is simply more jump to his game than in previous seasons. Giroux’s play has often provided a multiplier effect – with his various linemates, yes, but the entire team, too.
Said Shayne Gostisbehere, whose two assists Thursday gave him 51 for the season, “It’s fun to watch G play with so much confidence. It leaves an impression on everyone else. You want to play just as good as him.”
Referring to Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, and Jake Voracek, Gostisbehere said: “You look at his linemates: Coots is having a heck of a year, TK’s confidence is up there, too, and Jake is doing Jake stuff. Everyone is feeding off G right now. He’s our leader for a reason.’’
Said coach Dave Hakstol, “When guys battle hard, there’s little plays during a game that lift a bench, whether it’s a great offensive play that changes the game or even something that goes unnoticed. A great backcheck, a shot block, those things have a way of lifting a team.
“G, along with everybody else in this room, have had their moments. In terms of building that team mentality and chemistry. We’re going to need everybody to be good [on Saturday]. Everybody’s got to go out and do their job. And somewhere along the way somebody will make a game-changing play.’’
Said Giroux, “The danger is if you take a team like that lightly. I think that’s not going to be the case for us [Saturday]. We’re going to play them hard, we’re going to play our game. The guys know what’s at stake here.’’
There are some similarities between this final game and the one that decided the Flyers’ playoff eligibility in 2010 – the year they went to the Stanley Cup Finals. The most obvious is the opponent – the Rangers. After losing to them the day before, the Flyers needed to win by any means to beat out New York for one of the last two wild-card berths. They did, on Giroux’s shootout goal and a final save by Brian Boucher on Ollie Jokinen. “That was a pretty exciting time,’’ said the Flyers captain. “It was fun to play those games.’’