When the Flyers traded captain Mike Richards and high-scoring Jeff Carter last June, it elevated Claude Giroux to the top line and made him the new face of the franchise.

Giroux, who had been considered the team's third center, embraced the idea of having more responsibility.

"When Richie and Cartsy left, I had a little bit of pressure to kind of step up in the spotlight, and that's why you play - to be the go-to guy and want to help the team," said Giroux, who finished third in the NHL with 93 points this season. "And now that we're in the playoffs, we have to keep it going. We have a young team and have a lot of energy, and we're having a fun time doing it."

The Flyers and their cross-state pals, the Penguins, will begin a seven-game, first-round playoff matchup Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

A lot of eyes will be focused on Giroux and Penguins superstars Evgeni Malkin (NHL-best 109 points) and Sidney Crosby (37 points, +15 in 22 games) during the series.

Giroux, 24, cherishes the opportunity.

"I love it. I want to be a guy who can make a difference," he said after Monday's practice in Voorhees. "Those two guys are two of the best players in the league, so it's going to be a good challenge for us. Couts [Sean Couturier] is doing a pretty good job against the best players on the other side."

Giroux has excelled in the playoffs in his young career, collecting 13 goals and 38 points in 40 games. When the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, he had 10 goals and 21 points in 23 playoff games. Last year, he managed just one goal but had 11 assists in an 11-game playoff run that ended with a four-game sweep by Boston in the second round.

In the last three regular seasons, Giroux has blossomed into one of the NHL's elite players as his points totals have risen from 47 to 76 to 93.

"I think he's grown into his role," coach Peter Laviolette said.

Scott Hartnell, the high-scoring left winger on Giroux's line, said it's been "a privilege to play with him. This is where you make the big bucks, in the playoffs. The real men come to play and we've got a lot of young men in this room we think [can] get the job done."

They also have an old man, Jagr, a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old right winger has had a great influence on Giroux's season - and some of it has occurred away from the rink.

"Off the ice, he really helped me figure out how to play," Giroux said. "He's a creative player on the ice, and off the ice he's a workhorse. To be able to see him at 40 years old and work so hard off the ice, it's a motivation for us to do the same and it's kind of paid off."

Jagr is Public Enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh, whose fans hate him for spurning their team and signing with the hated Flyers in the offseason.

It just adds more intrigue to a series that is bursting with storylines.

"It's going to be easy to get up and play in these games," Giroux said. "We know our fans want to win this bad, and we do, too. It's going to be a tough series and we all know that, but at the end of the day, I think we can beat them, but we have to play our best.

"The regular season is night and day and I can't wait to see how the guys are going to step up."

If the series comes down to special teams, Pittsburgh has an edge. The Flyers and Penguins were tied for fifth in the 30-team NHL with a 19.7 percent success rate on the power play, while Pittsburgh was third on the penalty kill (87.8 percent) and the Flyers were tied for 17th (81.8 percent).

"It's important for us to stay out of the box, and at the same time we've got to be hard on them," Giroux said. "We've got to limit their gaps; if you give them room to make plays, they're going to make them."