THE FLYERS promised we would see their best in Game 6. The Rangers said the same thing. You can only hope that both teams told the truth, because last night's elimination-staving shellacking by the Flyers was so contrary to the tone of the previous five games of this series that it all seemed like, well, a dream.
Except for this: Claude Giroux was no hallucination, no figment of anyone's imagination but his own. He finally played like that guy from 2 years ago, banging people, drawing penalties, setting up goals on the power play, even stopping a puck along the side of the net when the margin was still only a goal.
"We just executed," Giroux said after the Flyers forced a Game 7 tonight in New York with a 5-2 victory. "Put the puck on the tape. When everybody does their job, that's when we play better hockey."
Wayne Simmonds, who scored two of his three of his goals on the power play, was a beast in front of the net. Scott Hartnell looked like the guy from playoffs past, setting up the Flyers' first-period power-play goal with a shot from the slot that Simmonds pushed past Henrik Lundqvist with two additional whacks.
Jakub Voracek was great breaking down that shell the Rangers had so masterfully constructed around Lundqvist all series, limiting the Flyers to only 10 goals over the first five games, and only six even strength.
This Flyers power play looked nothing like the one that appeared twice in the first period Sunday.
"I thought we did a good job of avoiding their shot blockers," Simmonds said. "We had layered screens and we had second and third chances, and we didn't quit on plays. I think that was the difference."
It started with the captain, whose first shift was reminiscent of his first shift in that Game 6 against Pittsburgh 2 years ago, banging Rangers as or just after they advanced pucks, showing no hesitation to shoot or pass when the puck found his stick, which was often. Giroux didn't score immediately, as he did in that game against Pittsburgh. But his blast over Lundqvist's shoulder as he sped down the left side of the ice on that first shift echoed off the glass and riled the crowd and seemed to shake whatever nerves they or his team had.
And that first goal? Benoit Pouliot was in the box for clotheslining Giroux as he broke toward a puck he had turned over.
It was no one-sided period, though. As has been the case throughout this series, the Rangers spent stretches of even-strength play hemming the Flyers in their own zone and generating juicy opportunities. When it ended, the turnovers were 9-2 in favor of New York. Steve Mason was sharp and the Flyers sold out everywhere. Kimmo Timomen wrapped up Mats Zuccarello after the puck took an odd bounce away from Mason behind the net as the puck bounced oddly off the boards into the slot with Mason behind the net. And Giroux appeared to make a save along the side of the net during a late frantic surge by New York, denying Pouliot.
This time, though, it was the Flyers who built momentum as the game wore on, who seemed to get their sticks on everything, disrupting the tape-to-tape crispness that had marked New York's play for much of this series. This time, the Flyers had that extra step in the neutral zone, outquicking the team that many, including me, believed was simply too fast for them.
So now, you ask? Is this the real them? Or did the Rangers save their best for last, for a Game 7 in their own building, where they have owned the Flyers in all but one game over the last 2 years. In the four regular-season games played against New York this season, the Flyers scored eight goals.
And Giroux was little more than an apparition.
Not last night. Giroux has found himself just in the nick of time. At least that's the dream that accompanied his sleep last night.
"I think tonight was our best game this series," he said. "Hopefully, it keeps going for Game 7. When everybody plays for each other, supports each other. That's when we're successful. If we win Game 7, it's going to feel even more special, because it's over there. We better take that as a motivation."
On Twitter: @samdonnellon