NEW YORK - Claude Giroux got off his first shot on goal at Madison Square Garden in four games.
He scored his first goal at MSG in more than 3 years, and his first goal of the playoffs.
Clearly, the Flyers' captain must have played very well.
Certainly, he led his team to a playoff win.
The Flyers lost Game 5, 4-2.
Giroux' goal came with the Flyers' net desperately empty, the team trailing, 3-1, inside of 2 minutes. The goal cut the deficit to one, but with the net empty again the Rangers scored and took a 3-2 series lead.
Giroux blasted a onetime slap shot from the top of the left circle through the legs of Henrik Lundqvist, exactly the sort of shot that coach Craig Berube had been begging him and his teammates to take since the series began: low-percentage, perhaps, but rife with potential in the form of dead rebounds and evil deflections.
Somehow, despite logging a game-high six shots and finally scoring a goal that Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il weren't alive to see, Giroux seemed to be even less a factor than in the first two games at MSG.
"He definitely was more effective with the puck; he shot the puck more," Berube said. "He competed hard. I still think he's not where he needs to be. And he'll get there."
He's running out of time.
"I'm aware I've got to play better. I want to play better," Giroux said. "And I will."
He looked like he is running out of gas, too.
What else can you expect?
Giroux has played with a man on his back for nearly 20 minutes per game for five straight games.
He played with a franchise on his back for the last 60 games of the regular season. He willed a team without an identity into a playoff season it did not deserve. He was the best player in the league; at least, pound-for-pound.
The burden can be too much.
With slightly more than 5 minutes to play in the first period, Giroux, still fresh, got a shot all the way to the net. That hadn't happened in his previous three games at MSG; or, since Jan. 12.
The last time he scored a goal here, he couldn't have celebrated by dancing Gangnam Style . . . because there was no Gangnam Style.
Yes, it was a better time.
Later, with Giroux minimized, Berube finally relented and injected fresh blood. Brayden Schenn replaced invisible winger Scott Hartnell on Giroux' line.
The result: even less direct pressure on Giroux, and more frequent productive shifts for the line, but the man who was third in the NHL in scoring still has not made an appearance in this series; especially not in this building.
If ever there was a game for Giroux to assert himself, this was it. He finally received the sort of protection from the officials that stars deserve.
Dan Girardi broke the ice moments into Giroux' first shift, checking him into the end boards and riding him onto the ice long after the play shifted down ice.
It was the most pleasant shift of Giroux' afternoon.
A few minutes later, at the end of a two-on-one rush, Carl Hagelin slashed Giroux. He lost his balance and crashed into the goal hard enough for his left thigh to dislodge the cage.
Not long after that Giroux absorbed a crosscheck from Hagelin behind the Rangers' goal.
The Flyers retained possession, which delayed the call. Knowing it would take blood to draw a double penalty, Brad Richards hooked Giroux in front of the crease.
The Flyers stumbled over themselves on both power plays, and that probably was the difference in the game - the Flyers won twice without a top-flight Giroux - but as the games magnify, Giroux becomes more necessary.
Later in the first, Brian Boyle thumped him into the side boards and Derick Brassard tried to trip him. After that, Giroux seemed to disappear.
He lost his speed. He became anonymous.
He declined to shoot twice, once in front, once from the left.
He nearly whiffed on a shot midway through the second period, the Flyers up a skater during a delayed penalty call.
He nearly whiffed trying to check Girardi on the resulting power play.
By then, the extra attention from the Rangers had essentially evaporated.
By then, with a little maneuvering, he was allowed time and space.
"You need to be able to adjust and create your own room out there," he said.
Even so . . .
In the end, he scored.
It might have been his last chance this season. He only had 89 seconds left.
"There was [about] a minute left when I scored," Giroux said, scoffing at his own success. "It's got to be better."
Or it's going to be over.
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