PITTSBURGH — The game had ended just minutes before, but the captain had already left the dressing room. Not very far, and with the intent to return, but Claude Giroux needed to find some space, in this case a storage area, to collect himself, maybe curse himself, out of view of the group of veterans and impressionable young players he is charged with leading.
He arched backward. He leaned forward and grabbed both knees. He looked up to see a stampede of reporters heading past him toward the Flyers dressing room and so he headed back there too.
“One of the worst games I’ve ever been a part of,” he would say later of the Flyers’ 7-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, unaware that it was among two or three of the worst playoff losses any Flyers captain has helmed in the franchise’s 52-year existence.
So how do you reset from that? How do you recover from such an eyebrow-arching night, one that left your fans feeling forsaken and your NHL peers dismissing you, a night that Wayne Simmonds on Thursday dubbed “embarrassing.”
“I don’t know,” Giroux said after the Flyers practiced Thursday at the PPG Paints Arena. “I don’t have an answer for that. You have to. If you don’t do it … It’s not going to help you, dwelling on it. It’s not going to help you for the future, it’s not going to help you for the next game. So you just have to move on.”
It is one of the most impressive aspects of professional sports, that ability to, as they say, “flip the switch.” For us mere mortals, it would take days, if not weeks, to shake off the kind of embarrassment these players underwent Wednesday night, making brutal mistakes for the hockey world to see, “playing tight,” as their coach Dave Hakstol termed it, looking so overmatched by the two-time-defending Stanley Cup champions that anyone watching them for the first time had to wonder how they even got there in the first place.
As those watching them for the umpteenth time can attest, they did so by repeatedly bouncing back from things. From a 10-game losing streak. From injuries to both starting goalies. By employing that ‘short memory’ professional athletes, and particularly those involved in this on-the-margins sport, so often speak of.
What is the mechanism for it? “I think everybody is a little different,” Hakstol said. “I wish there was one switch I could flip for everybody.”
For 21-year-old Travis Konecny, whose remarkable productivity has come to a screeching halt since being placed on the third line, “It’s part of being a pro. Some guys can’t turn it off. But if you want to get to this level, you need to learn that. You need to be able to shut it off.”
For veterans like Giroux, and Elliott, drawing on their library of experience is a handy tool.
“We all didn’t get to this level without at some point going through some type of adversity like this,” said Elliott, who allowed five goals on 19 shots before being replaced in the second period. “I think it’s individual battles. I think it’s internal. What your swing thoughts are to get back to the little things…
“You take a little bit from each playoff series that you’ve played, each level that you’ve played at, mentors along the way. So there’s definitely for me – everybody’s had help along the way. You take those little bits and pieces and you have them in your back pocket.”
And you pull them out when you have a night like Elliott had Wednesday, like Giroux had Wednesday, like Simmonds and Konecny and the rest of them had too.
In essence, you win an argument with reality.
“You can’t see yourself as a victim out there,” said Elliott, who is likely to get a second chance in Game 2 on Friday. “You have to be a little bit the aggressor. Have a battle mentality that you’re going to go out there and fight no matter what happens. There’s no give up. There’s no feeling sorry for yourself.”