NEWARK, N.J. -- Claude Giroux has become the Flyers' leader, and no one questions it. He is them and they are him and that is that, at least for now.
When Giroux is the best player on the ice, they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. When he is quiet, they lose two straight games and fall behind the New Jersey Devils in the second round.
When he assists on a power play goal and persists on a shorthanded goal in the first period on Sunday night, the Flyers remain alive in a game in which they should be dead. Eventually, they were dead, by a final score of 4-2. They now trail the Devils by three games to one in the series.
But the issue has become even bigger than that, and more worrisome. Because he is them and they are him, and now there is a chance the Flyers will be without Giroux for Game 5 of the series after he was penalized at 19:56 of the second period for a head shot delivered with his shoulder against the Devils' Dainius Zubrus.
To attempt to predict what Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's dean of discipline, might do with this is a waste of energy. All we can know for sure is that it will be scrutinized. The guess here is that there will be no suspension, and that there should be no suspension -- that the hit was deserving of a penalty and nothing more.
But who knows? And who knows what effect a suspension might have on a Flyers team that has now been outplayed in three consecutive games.
Giroux has no history of discipline issues with the league, which will work in his favor. Zubrus returned to the game and did not appear to be injured seriously -- in fact, scoring the final New Jersey goal into an empty net -- which also will work in Giroux's favor. The fact that Zubrus, who is 6-foot-5, was hit in the head by the shoulder of a player who is 5-foot-11, means that Zubrus was already bent over -- and that should work in Giroux's favor, too. It wasn't as if he reached up with an elbow.
But who knows?
The problem is that it is very obvious that Giroux skated a long way in anger before the hit. He was carping with the officials seconds before, furious as he skated up the ice, apparently because Devils goaltender Marty Brodeur illegally played the puck outside of the trapezoid behind the net without being whistled for a penalty.
So there is that, and there is the penalty call itself: "illegal check to head." You do not see that one every day.
Again, it was not a clean play. But it did not seem to rise to the level of a suspension. Then again, I don't watch suspension video for a living.