VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux has to watch Philadelphia’s attempt at saving its post-season from the sidelines.
He can only hope he hasn’t played his last game of the season with the Flyers.
Giroux was suspended by the NHL on Monday for his illegal check to the head on New Jersey centre Dainius Zubrus in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The punishment leaves the Flyers without their all-star forward and leading scorer as they try and rally from a 3-1 deficit.
Giroux will miss Tuesday’s Game 5 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia’s de facto captain in injured defenceman Chris Pronger’s absence, Giroux defended his position with league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for about 15 to 20 minutes on Monday.
It didn’t matter. Shanahan slapped Giroux with the first disciplinary action against him in an otherwise clean four-year career. Zubrus was not injured and returned to play. That didn’t matter, either.
Shanahan said in a video statement that Giroux deserved the one-game ban because he targeted Zubrus’ head.
“When you look at this shift in its entirety, including the violent chop of the stick coupled with the lateness of the hit, we feel this reckless picking of the head rises to the level of supplemental discipline,” Shanahan said.
Giroux said in a statement after the announcement he “respects the decision and wants to move on.”
Hours earlier at the Flyers practice facility, Giroux said he never intended to nail Zubrus in the head and he is not a dirty player.
“I was trying to finish my hit and he kind of leaned in and I kind of hit him, my shoulder to his head,” Giroux said before the punishment was announced. “My elbow was down. I didn’t jump. I’m a pretty honest player. I’m not a dirty player. I’m not out there to hurt anybody. I was just trying to finish a hit.”
The Devils feel otherwise.
“I thought it was a textbook example of what they are trying to get out of the game,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.
Giroux was agitated when Devils goalie Martin Brodeur played the puck outside the trapezoid. Giroux barked at the officials before he skated straight at Zubrus and took out his frustration with the hit. The Devils went on to beat the Flyers, 4-2.
Zubrus said he was fine and ready to go for Game 5.
“I was just trying to get in the forecheck and got hit,” he said Monday. “The only real point of contact was my head. I know it wasn’t an elbow. It was a shoulder and I went down. I am happy I can continue without stopping playing and I will be in the lineup tomorrow.”
Giroux had stronger words for the Flyers, saying they were “panicking” and have lost confidence in their game against the Devils. That was never more evident than when he was called for the head-hit penalty on Zubrus.
“We’re not playing our game,” Giroux said. “We need to relax a little bit. Everybody’s just panicking a little bit. We need to relax. We need to have a little more confidence in our game.”
Both teams had the day off from practice on Monday.
“At this point, I’m not sure what going out and skating is going to accomplish,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.
With or without Giroux, the Flyers are in trouble. They have failed to play like the high-scoring team that dominated Pittsburgh on the power play and rolled to three straight wins. The Devils have rattled the usually unflappable Flyers.
Scott Hartnell threw his glove into the penalty box after he was whistled for a penalty. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov took his time getting to his feet after a goal in Game 2. The Flyers are struggling to generate any offence and are leaving too many periods with single-digit shot totals.
“This is the biggest challenge of the year,” Flyers forward Danny Briere said. “But we’ve shown all year that we’re not quitters.”
Briere, Hartnell, Giroux, defenceman Kimmo Timonen and other key regulars were part of the Flyers team that stormed back from a 3-0 hole to beat Boston en route to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. So they know a historic comeback can be done — even if they’re not using it as a rallying point.
“To tell a story, I don’t know if that will get the deal done (Tuesday),” Laviolette said.
But that history is exactly why the Devils want to finish off the Flyers when they’re down.
“They are a comeback team,” Devils forward Travis Zajac said. “They have the players to do it.”
The Devils are the ones setting the pace, dominating the puck and staying out of the penalty box. They also know how to rally after rebounding from a 2-0 hole in the first period on Sunday to win. They’ve played like the anti-Flyers and they want to keep up that pace.
“Ideally, we would like to go there and end the series,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “We expect them to play very well. We have to keep playing the same way we are, even better.”