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Phil Sheridan: Giroux lost his cool, now Flyers pay the price

It is story time for the Flyers.

The Flyers must win Game 5 against the Devils Tuesday night if they want to keep their season alive. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
The Flyers must win Game 5 against the Devils Tuesday night if they want to keep their season alive. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

It is story time for the Flyers.

They have to tell themselves tales of gritty comebacks and overcoming long odds. They have to believe those stories. Only then can the Flyers hope to write a story of their own.

If they do, it will go something like this: There was a team that played as if under a spell for the first four games of a best-of-seven series. The guys skated hard, but their legs just wouldn't move. They knew just what to do, but they couldn't do it. They fell behind three games to one and faced a do-or-die situation.

And then, when things couldn't get worse, they lost their best player. So there they were, backs to the wall, their leader missing, their season on the brink of an embarrassing finish.

So how did they respond? Well, that's the part of the story we don't have yet.

"Obviously, it's a really desperate time for us," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "It's a really good test for us. If we overcome [Tuesday night], it's a new series."

Timonen spoke Monday afternoon, a couple of hours before the NHL announced the one-game suspension of center Claude Giroux. So the guy who launched the Game 6 triumph over Pittsburgh in the first round will not be around to make big hits or fire wicked shots in Game 5 against New Jersey.

It is unfortunate, but self-inflicted. The NHL has been trying to legislate cheap shots and blows to the head out of the sport. Giroux was the victim of just such a head shot in the Pittsburgh series, not to mention the recipient of a nasty concussion during the regular season. And still, he felt the need to invite a suspension by tracking down Devils forward Dainius Zubrus from behind.

You can watch and rewatch the video. If you're a Flyers fan, you see Zubrus lean forward as Giroux lunges at him. If you're a Devils fan, you see Giroux skate the length of the ice like a heat-seeking missile and make a dangerous play from Zubrus' blind spot.

It was immature and unnecessary and borne of this simple frustration: Giroux and the Flyers have not been able to play good, even acceptable, hockey against the Devils, so he lashed out at an unsuspecting opponent.

A few Amtrak stops south, Cole Hamels was throwing a baseball at Washington's Bryce Harper for no better reason. Hamels, too, has been suspended, for five games. He was harshly criticized on ESPN radio by former Phillies ace Curt Schilling, who said it was "selfish" for Hamels to get himself suspended and hurt his team.

The same logic applies here. Giroux lost his composure and may ultimately help lose this series. It is a shame, because he really is not a dirty player. He has done pretty much everything right in his career here. This is not an occasion to dismiss him as some kind of goon. It's a chance for him to learn a lesson and grow as a player and leader.

And that's all swell, but it isn't going to put any pucks past Martin Brodeur in Game 5.

The shock of this series hasn't been that the Devils have won three of four games. It's that the Flyers have come out all four games and been overrun by the same team doing the same things. They rallied in time to win Game 1 in overtime. Since then, it has been pretty much all Devils except for a period or so in Game 3.

Scott Hartnell said the Flyers were playing "almost scared." Giroux said Monday they were "panicking." Danny Briere talked about "frustration" and a lack of "composure."

"You get that feeling that they wanted it more," Timonen said. "They played a really hard game."

These are all ways of saying the Devils are playing far superior hockey and beating the Flyers up and down the ice. In a one-game playoff format, the Flyers would have been routed and left trying to figure out what hit them. It is much crueler to take a beating like this over a best-of-seven series. There is time to assess, to regroup, to vow to play better - only to keep getting slapped right back into place.

And so teams tell themselves stories. Sometimes, as when the Flyers overcame a three-games-to-none deficit against Boston two years ago, they believe the stories and make them come true.

"We have to believe," Briere said. "We have to believe in ourselves. There are guys who were here a couple of years ago. We've seen comebacks. I think the first step toward that is believing in ourselves and believing we can do it."

There has been no evidence of that so far. And now there will be no Giroux. It is good if the Flyers believe in themselves. It would be an even better story if they played some decent hockey.