YESTERDAY MORNING, Peter Laviolette pulled aside Claude Giroux after the Flyers' pregame skate.
His message was not about handling the pressure of the Stanley Cup finals, or about scoring a big goal. Giroux was scoreless in his last three games.
The talk was definitely not centered around his increased role in the deepest Flyers playoff run since 1987.
It was about relaxing.
"We talked about it, to just lighten up a little bit," Laviolette said. "You have to remember, it's the Stanley Cup finals. There's a lot of work. There's a lot of intensity. There's a lot of competitiveness in the battles.
"If you tighten it up too much, you seize up a little bit. We talked about just . . . letting everything roll. He's a talented kid. I think he took that advice, because he was smiling all day."
It's a good bet Giroux was still smiling when he woke up this morning. Last night, Giroux played the hero.
He also played the Flyers back into the Stanley Cup finals with his overtime tip-in just 5:59 into the extra period.
Giroux gave the Flyers a 4-3 win in Game 3 over the Blackhawks, cutting Chicago's 2-0 series lead in half in front of 20,297 at the Wachovia Center.
The Flyers can even the series in Game 4, also at home, tomorrow night.
Giroux said he was awoken from a pregame nap with a text message from friend Luc Deschampes back home in Canada. The text said, "I've got a feeling you're going to score the overtime winner tonight." Giroux responded back, "You're crazy."
He wasn't crazy.
Giroux gave the Flyers their first win in the finals since May 28, 1987, breaking a seven-game losing streak that spanned parts of three series. The win also broke Chicago's seven-game road winning streak in the playoffs.
"I don't think the guys wanted to come back again from 3-0," Giroux said, referring to the Flyers' comeback against Boston. "It was tough losing the first two games. I think if we wanted to give ourselves a chance to win the series, we needed to win this game. The message was pretty clear before the game."
Game 3 opened with a furious first period in which the Flyers and Blackhawks traded nine shots apiece. The shot total may have implied that the period was evenly played, but the Flyers dominated most of the 20 minutes, picking up where they left off in the third period of Game 2 in Chicago.
Danny Briere's goal was the only difference on the scoreboard. His goal with 5:02 left in the period capped off an incredible sequence of scoring chances and close calls.
Briere's original shot started it all. His rebound off Antti Niemi's pads bounced out to Claude Giroux, who fed Braydon Coburn for a one-timer. Coburn's slap shot landed in front of Scott Hartnell, who - while falling, how else? - made a blind, backhand pass to a wide-open Briere with a wide-open net.
"Scott Hartnell found the puck in the slot and just threw it backdoor," Briere said. "That is part of the chemistry you develop when you play a lot with the same guys. You know where they are going to be and he knew I was going to be backdoor."
It was the second time the Flyers had scored the first goal in the first three games of the series.
Duncan Keith got the Blackhawks even 2:49 into the second period. Keith's slap shot from the point deflected off Jeff Carter's stick halfway toward the net and hopped 5 feet over everyone's head, including goalie Michael Leighton, and dropped in the net behind him.
A little more than 7 minutes later, Hartnell appeared to whack a rebound from a Chris Pronger shot just enough past Niemi to cross the goal standing on its edge.
The puck initially crossed the line at 10:05, but play continued as a Blackhawk swiped it back before referee Bill McCreary could signal it a goal, and sent it down the ice. More than a minute of play continued before a whistle could summon a review from the NHL's war room in Toronto.
McCreary soon signaled a goal, much to the delight of the suspecting 20,297 fans. Hartnell's goal gave the Flyers 2-1 lead, but it didn't last long.
Brent Sopel silenced the Wachovia Center with just 2:08 remaining in the second period when his slap shot rocketed over Leighton's right shoulder to reknot the game. Three-time Stanley Cup winner John Madden won a faceoff to Leighton's left and the goalie could barely react to Sopel's far-side shot.
Sopel's goal, his first in 19 playoff games, sent the game into the third period tied, 2-2.
The Flyers had 20 minutes to decide whether they would return to the Wachovia Center tomorrow night just one win away from sending their season-deciding series back to Chicago tied at two games apiece or with just a glimmer of hope at sharing Lord Stanley's shining prize.
Just 2:50 minutes into the third period, the latter looked like the likely prognosis.
Jonathan Toews sent linemate Patrick Kane speeding in on Leighton on a breakaway. Kane, an 88-point scorer in the regular season, doesn't miss with those opportunities. Kane blasted the puck between Leighton's blocker and pads to give Chicago a 3-2 lead. It was the first goal scored by Chicago's top line in the Stanley Cup finals, as the Flyers kept Kane, Toews and Dustin Byfuglien off the scoresheet for the first three games.
Backed into a corner, it didn't take the Flyers long to respond. Just 20 seconds, in fact.
Ville Leino received a fortuitous bounce when Giroux's cross-ice pass to Arron Asham ricocheted off a Blackhawks defenseman's skate toward an off-guard Niemi. The puck then squirted off Niemi's pads right to Leino, who buried it into the empty net.
"[Leino] seems to have so much energy out there. You can double shift him. You can double shift him without taking him off the ice," Laviolette said. "I think what everybody is impressed with and certainly we are as well is his ability to hang on to that puck and make plays."
The Flyers outshot the Blackhawks, 15-4, in the third period. The Flyers also had the first close call in overtime when Simon Gagne's one-timer clanked off the post and slid directly along the goal line 5:02 into the extra session. Niemi scrambled to recover the puck and as the goal horn blared and Flyers players celebrated, McCreary never called it a goal.
Carter poked in a rebound long after Niemi had covered the puck and the whistle had blown.
The game's second video review from Toronto revealed the puck never crossed the goal line, much to the dismay of the fans.
Just 57 seconds later, Giroux sent them all home happy when he took Matt Carle's shot-pass and tipped it through his legs and behind Niemi.
"In Chicago, I don't think we played even close to what we should have been playing," Giroux said. "We just believe in our team. Any time we face adversity, we find a way to get it done. We're having fun."
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.