RALEIGH, N.C. - It was a routine check, a sequence repeated up to 100 times in any given NHL game, on a dull January night in North Carolina.
Claude Giroux closed in on Carolina's Justin Faulk in the corner at PNC Arena and pushed the Hurricanes defenseman toward the boards. On the reverberation, Faulk's right skate inadvertently swung back and caught the Flyers' captain's left leg.
One run-of-the-mill hit could have irreversibly altered the Flyers.
Giroux buckled and immediately fell to all fours on the ice. The puck had long moved up ice in the opposite direction when referee Ian Walsh halted play and a squirming Giroux, trying desperately to make it back to the Flyers' bench.
Noticing blood, Walsh hurriedly motioned for Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin.
Giroux never made it to the Flyers' bench. With the help of McCrossin and teammates, he was ushered off the ice and into the Hurricanes' locker room.
"It was pretty scary," Giroux said. "I tried to get up, but it felt really weird. I tried to put pressure on it, but it didn't feel too good. I kind of panicked a little bit.
"There was blood, so everybody kind of panicked. I didn't help the cause, because I was panicking. I didn't know what was going on down there. I panicked a lot."
Giroux said his first thought was the severed Achilles' tendon Ottawa Senators star Erik Karlsson suffered in February, 2013, when he was sliced by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke. Giroux was luckier. Much luckier.
Thanks to the Kevlar-reinforced, cut-resistant socks he was wearing underneath his equipment - made popular after Karlsson's cautionary tale - Giroux was spared from a significant, career-threatening injury. Faulk's skate broke the skin, for sure, but didn't cut much deeper in Giroux's left ankle area.
Giroux needed to be stitched closed by Hurricanes doctors, but said he expects to play against the Devils Saturday night when the Flyers wrap up their season-long road trip in New Jersey.
"I got lucky there," Giroux said. "I don't know what to say. I'm just happy I'm good."
Major crisis averted, yes, but the Flyers' season is still very much dangling, following an embarrassing, 2-1 defeat Friday night to the 29th-ranked Hurricanes. Craig Berube's squad has now lost four straight (0-3-1) against some of the NHL's worst competition, spiraling this once-promising trip into an unmitigated disaster.
The Flyers' three consecutive wins in Toronto, Winnipeg and Minnesota to begin this odyssey feels like an entirely different era of franchise history at this point.
Friday night, they went the first 36 minutes, 10 seconds with only nine total shots on goal against a Carolina team that entered the night tied for the fewest points in the league with Edmonton. They didn't really wake up until Giroux's gut-turning injury occurred a little over 4 minutes into the third period.
"All of the sudden, we played like a whole different team," defenseman Mark Streit said. "I don't know. I don't have an explanation why we do that.
"For me, it's kind of a mystery with how we play at times. Until we get a goal and we get that momentum, all of the sudden, we have life again. I don't really have an explanation for that - but it's been like that for a lot of games this year."
Perhaps only the Flyers' fourth line, which generated most of the chances for the fifth consecutive game and, on this night, the team's only goal, could be spared from criticism. The Flyers were hesitant, slow-moving and indecisive for much of the first two periods.
They seemed to hang their hat on the fact that they came to life in the third period - something they also did against Arizona, another cellar-dweller, on this same trip.
With nearly half the season gone by and an ever-growing mountain to climb to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, it's getting to be a little late for moral victories talk for the Flyers.
"We can't come out and expect to have these miraculous comebacks all the time," goaltender Steve Mason said. "Today was a game we needed, a game we should have won. And we came up flat. It doesn't matter who you're playing, when you come away from a game with zero points, it's not a good result."
Berube, who pushed buttons yet again in the third period by pulling Matt Read off the top line after only five periods, said the game bothered him just as much as any of the other 17 losses this season.
"All games we lose eat away at us. All of us. It doesn't matter who it is," Berube said. "It doesn't eat away at me any more than any other game we lose. Today, obviously, we didn't have the energy in the first period. The first period, we weren't good."
On this night, though, the loss seemed to take a back seat to Giroux's health. He limped out of PNC Arena in his suit and boarded the Flyers' flight - one stop closer to home - where they will all live for another day.
"I know I got lucky," Giroux said. "I didn't know what we were dealing with. It was pretty scary. The doctors did a good job. I'm pretty lucky they were there."
With his assist on Chris VandeVelde's third period goal, Vinny Lecavalier now has five points (four goals, one assist) in seven games on this road trip . . . Defenseman Michael Del Zotto, also cut by a freak skate accident in Denver on Wednesday, remained in the lineup . . . Luke Schenn, Zac Rinaldo and Carlo Colaiacovo were the healthy scratches . . . South Jersey's Johnny Gaudreau was named the NHL's rookie of December . . . Yardley, Pa., native Brian O'Neill was named the AHL's player of the month for December. He collected 21 points in 13 games for Manchester . . . Saturday night's opponent, New Jersey, has lost three of four since firing coach Peter DeBoer on Dec. 26. The Flyers and Devils have split their two games so far.