WAYNE SIMMONDS could tell something was a different with Claude Giroux yesterday.
He was a little more quiet than usual. After being conspicuously absent during Wednesday's romp by the Rangers, save for a last-minute assist that only prevented another Henrik Lundqvist shutout, Giroux was just a tad more focused than he's been during this concentrated turnaround.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs as a perfect reminder of what could happen when two losses turns to three, Giroux wanted to right the ship.
"I think anytime 'G' has a down game, the next time he comes back, he's unbelievable," Simmonds said. "That's definitely what happened [last night]. He was great."
Last night, with most of Canada holding its breath on the Maple Leafs' dangling playoff chances, Giroux won two key faceoffs that immediately turned into power play goals and then blasted the game-winner to deliver a gutty, 4-2 win for the Flyers.
In other words, Giroux was back to being Giroux - leaving many scratching their heads wondering what the Flyers would be without him.
His goal, which pinged the top right corner behind Jonathan Bernier, gave him three points on the night to rocket past Phil Kessel into sole possession of third place in the NHL scoring race with 78 points.
Giroux now has 58 points in his last 42 games, the most in the NHL since Dec. 11,
"I think it bothered all of us the last couple games," said Scott Hartnell, who picked up his 20th goal of the season. "They were poor efforts. We were soft on pucks. I think everyone was just very, very tentative. We wanted to have some jump. For 60 minutes, I think we did a great job of that and it showed at the end of the night."
The victory halted the Flyers' skid at two games. Toronto, on the other hand, dropped its seventh straight game - falling even further out of the playoff hunt after holding on to a spot continuously from Jan. 10 until this week. The Leafs have only games remaining on their schedule.
Zac Rinaldo said the Flyers "didn't want to go down the road we went at the beginning of the season," when they started on a 1-7-0 skid.
"It's a long, slippery road when you let things like that get at you," Simmonds said. "We knew if we played hard and continued to push and stuck with our systems, we'd be fine."
The Flyers matched the intensity of a Maple Leafs squad desperate for a win. Instead, it was the Flyers who got back on track - largely with the help of two power-play goals from a unit that has become increasingly dangerous. They went 2-for-4 on the night.
Vinny Lecavalier's first-period blast, on the night he was demoted to the fourth line, came only 3 seconds into a 5-on-3 edge. The Flyers were only 1-for-12 this season before that with a two-man advantage, tied for third-worst in the NHL.
The Flyers have also killed off 36 of their last 37 penalties.
"Penalty killing is doing a good job, too," Giroux said. "Nick Grossmann blocked five or six shots and makes six hits a game. He brings it every game. With the shots he blocks, you see him walking around on one foot, I think it's motivation for us [on the power play] to do the same."
With the two points, the Flyers matched their season-high lead on a playoff spot of five points. It is impossible to overstate the importance of last night's gutty win, because the road will not get any easier.
The Flyers' next two games are against Boston (106 points) and St. Louis (107), the Eastern and Western Conference leaders who are jockeying for the Presidents' Trophy. Then, the Flyers will face Columbus, the team directly behind them in the Metropolitan Division. Only three of the Flyers' next eight games are at home.
"The second period was a little bit sloppy; we were sleeping a little bit," coach Craig Berube said. "I didn't like the energy in the New York game. It's probably the grind, a lot of games and a lot of tough games. We had good energy tonight."
James van Riemsdyk's goal, 4 seconds into the second period, was his first against the Flyers. It was also the fastest allowed by the Flyers in franchise history to start a period, breaking record of Washington's Bengt Gustafsson, who scored 7 seconds into third period on Jan. 18, 1983. It also tied the NHL record for fastest to start a period . . . Scott Hartnell became the fifth Flyer to hit the 20-goal plateau this season . . . Zac Rinaldo drew both penalties that led to the Flyers' two power-play goals. He has drawn 25 penalties this season, but taken 37.