Here was a moment for Claude Giroux. Late in the second period Sunday night, Game 4, score tied, outcome in doubt. Ivan Provorov surged into the offensive zone, drew two Islanders to him in the high slot, turned his back to them to protect the puck, then slid a neat little pass to Giroux — left circle, off wing, Giroux’s money spot on the ice. He whipped a wrist shot toward the upper left corner of the net. Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss snapped the puck out of the air like he was picking grapes. Giroux lifted both of his arms and grabbed the sides of his head with his gloved hands. The gesture said: Why me?

Over his last 26 playoff games, including the Flyers’ 3-2 loss in Game 4, Claude Giroux has scored one goal. That statistic ought to be inconceivable. Six times in his 13 seasons with the Flyers, Giroux has been an All-Star. Five times, he has averaged a point per game or more during a regular season. Three times, he has finished among the top four candidates in voting for the Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s most valuable player. He has been the team’s captain for more than seven years, and he is regarded as one of the best players in the franchise’s history.

And yet: 26 playoff games, one goal. There is no getting around the enormity of that number, its effect on the team and on him and in particular on his reputation and legacy with the Flyers. It can’t be ignored, and it threatens to overshadow his achievements with the club, and he knows it.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how hard you work,” he said late Sunday. “You’ve got to find a way.”

The best moment, and the worst

Here was another moment for Claude Giroux. Minutes before Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers led the series, but the Penguins had won the previous two games, had clawed back into it, and if they managed to win Game 6 …

Giroux skated over to Ray Ferraro, a member of TSN’s broadcast team, for a pregame interview.

“He dropped an F-bomb,” Ferraro said. “He was so dialed in, so intense. He was the total engine of that team. You just felt it.”

You likely remember what happened next. On his first shift, Giroux leveled Sidney Crosby with a body check, then scored the game’s first goal, then listened as Peter Laviolette, the Flyers’ head coach at the time, called him the best hockey player in the world. It remains the high point of Giroux’s career — and maybe the worst thing that could have happened to him, establishing an expectation that he was never going to meet.

“I don’t know that you get the same feel now,” Ferraro said during a phone interview in February. “Maybe it would be different in a playoff series.”

The danger of context

It has not been different, and defenders of Giroux, true believers in his greatness and his leadership, will choose not to view this interminable postseason slump as a single continuum but as distinct episodes with distinct contexts.

That six-game loss to the Capitals in 2016? Look, the Flyers had no chance of winning that series anyway, and as it turned out, Giroux was playing through an abdominal tear and a hip problem — injuries that required surgeries the following offseason. That six-game loss to the Penguins in 2018? You want to pin that disappointment only on him when Pittsburgh’s first three victories in that series were by an aggregate score of 17-1? This postseason? These 13 games without a goal? Hey, Giroux is 32. The Flyers wasted his prime by rebuilding for too long. He’s no longer the dynamic scorer he once was, and it’s unfair to expect him to be.

“To think at his stage of career and his age that he’s going to get back to 100 points, you’re looking at the wrong thing,” Ferraro said. “Very few guys do that. Your numbers go down. Your impact on the game doesn’t have to go down. If that role is defensive-zone starts, if it’s faceoffs in the defensive zone, if it’s killing more penalties, that’s not a very sexy way to go about it, but your impact on the game can be significant if you have the toolbox to do it.”

Even Giroux himself might frame everything the same way. “I think every situation’s been a little different,” he said. “At the end of the day, playoffs is a different game. We’ve had success in the playoffs before, when I started playing.”

Claude Giroux (28) has one goal in his last 26 postseason games and none in the Flyers' 13 games in these playoffs.
Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press via AP
Claude Giroux (28) has one goal in his last 26 postseason games and none in the Flyers' 13 games in these playoffs.

Yes, he did. In 2010, when the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Final, Giroux had 10 goals and 21 points in 23 playoff games. In 2012, he had eight goals and 17 points in 10 playoff games. But context cuts both ways. Giroux was a third-line center on that 2010 Flyers team, one that had enough depth to allow him to play against an opponent’s lesser forwards. And that 2012 series against the Penguins remains an outlier in recent postseason hockey for all the end-to-end offense and the eccentric, often downright awful performances of goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov.

That Pittsburgh series played to the strengths of Giroux’s game then: his creativity, his ability to score and set up graceful goals. He had six goals and 14 points in those six games alone. But the opportunities for gracefulness and stylishness are in short supply in the NHL postseason. Twenty-six games, and Giroux’s only goal, against the Penguins in 2018, was a one-timer from the high slot on one of those rare opportunities. There has been no deflection of a soft shot from the point, no rebound that he shuffleboarded through a goalie’s pads, nothing from the dangerous areas of the ice. There is something telling about that absence.

“I know I can play better,” Giroux said. “I know I can help this team. Next game is huge. Need to play better.”

The unforgiving truth

Here was another moment for Claude Giroux, another moment from Sunday night. In the third period, he got to one of those dangerous areas, seven feet in front of Greiss, who made a save and kicked the rebound toward Giroux, who was falling to the ice as if he were diving into a pool. Giroux swatted his stick at the puck and caught it flush, a remarkable display of hand-eye coordination, his effort in that instant unquestionable. And Greiss padded away that shot, too. He said it himself: Doesn’t matter how hard you work. Twenty-six games, one goal. One loss, and the Flyers’ season ends. That is the truth for Claude Giroux, and it is unforgiving.