ON A SOLEMN DAY usually reserved for locker cleanout and one last team excursion to Atlantic City to drown a long season, Claude Giroux did one better yesterday.
Giroux earned himself a trip to Las Vegas for the NHL Awards.
The Flyers' captain was announced as one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL's most valuable player, along with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf. The winner will be announced June 24 at the Wynn Las Vegas.
"To be nominated is a great honor," Giroux said in a statement. "I couldn't have done it without all my teammates and coaching staff. To be able to bounce back after the slow start that we had this year, it was obviously a very fun time."
Giroux, 26, strung together his second-best regular season statistically, with 86 points in 82 games. He finished third in league scoring behind Crosby (104 points) and Getzlaf (87), but no player had more points than Giroux since mid-December. He also matched a career high in goals (28) and netted a team-high six points in seven playoff games.
Amazingly, Giroux had only seven assists and zero goals in his first 15 games of the season, meaning he closed at a pace of 97 points (79 in 67 games) if played out over a full season. The Flyers rose in the standings as Giroux did.
Despite an overall disappointing season, with a first-round Game 7 exit and Giroux being left off the gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic team, rookie coach Craig Berube was able to keep his captain calm and level-headed.
"I think his nomination is very well-deserved," Berube said. "He is the captain and leader of our team, and, obviously, he had a terrific season. The team was in a tough situation early on, and he went on to have a great year."
The award, originally donated to the NHL in 1924 by Dr. David A. Hart, father of Cecil Hart, a former manager-coach of the Montreal Canadiens, was voted on by 150 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association before the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Daily News sports writer Frank Seravalli voted Giroux third on his ballot behind Getzlaf and then Crosby. His full ballot is available at: http://bit.ly/nhlawards)
This is the first nomination as a Hart Trophy finalist for both Giroux and Getzlaf. Giroux finished fourth in voting in 2012, when he netted 93 points. Crosby, expected to be the runaway winner, has won the award only once and not since 2006-07. Crosby never went more than two games this season without a point.
Giroux is only the fifth Flyer to ever be nominated for the Hart Trophy. Bobby Clarke won the award three times (1973, 1975, 1976) and Eric Lindros captured the trophy in the 1995 lockout-shortened season. Bernie Parent was Clarke's runner-up in 1974; Pelle Lindbergh was voted third in 1985, months before he died. Clarke also finished second in 1977.
Giroux will begin an 8-year, $66.2 million deal in October.
"Claude is one of the best players in the National Hockey League and he certainly deserves to be nominated," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "He was a major reason for the turnaround in our season, and he was consistently one of the top players on the ice night in and night out."
One of the bright spots of the Flyers' first-round flop was forward Jason Akeson, who spent all of the first 81 games of the season in the minors. Akeson, 23, netted two goals and an assist in seven playoff games, but he also was one of the few consistently creating scoring chances against New York using his speed. The small but scrappy winger was better than anticipated defensively, picking up little tips and tricks from linemates Sean Couturier and Matt Read along the way.
Akeson deserves a good, long look in Craig Berube's first training camp with the Flyers after he was quickly dismissed by Peter Laviolette last fall. He is a restricted free agent this summer.
"For sure, it gave me some experience," Akeson said after Game 7. "Hopefully, I can make an impact on these guys and stick around next year. That's my plan going into this summer, just working hard and making sure I'm in the best shape of my life."
According to the NHL, Comcast SportsNet's coverage of Game 7 produced an 8.32 rating among adults 25 to 54, ranking as the highest-rated program in all of television (broadcast and cable) during April in the Philadelphia market.
As a whole, viewership in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was up 57 percent nationally compared with last season.
The Flyers will clean out their lockers today, with exit interviews being conducted with Paul Holmgren and Craig Berube throughout the day . . . Hockey Canada is still in need of two forwards for its World Championship entry in Minsk, Belarus. You'd have to think that if Canada came calling, Claude Giroux would listen this time. Giroux helped Canada to a fifth-place finish with Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read last spring in Sweden . . . Yardley native and Germantown Academy product Brian O'Neill, 25, signed a 2-year deal with the Kings yesterday. He led AHL Manchester with 26 goals this season, his second since winning a national title at Yale.