May 8, 2012

It’s amazing how one shift can change an entire series. I’m talking about Claude Giroux’s shift in the final seconds of the second period of Game Four of the Devils-Flyers series.

For most watching the game that night, they only saw the end result, Giroux’s shoulder coming up to make contact with Danius Zubrus’ head. He was then called for an illegal check to the head. What caused NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to roll the tape back were Giroux’s comments following the game.

“I was just trying to finish my hit,” Giroux said after the game. “He just kind of leaned in and kind of tried to chip the puck in. I didn’t see the replay, so I don’t know, but obviously I’m not a dirty player. I don’t want to hit guys in the head. I was just trying to finish my hit there.”

“I think [Martin] Brodeur played in that little circle where he’s not supposed to,” he said of his building frustration. “It’s frustrating. Obviously when your team deserves a penalty, you kind of want to go on the power play, but it was a quick play.”

“I don’t know about that,” Brodeur said after hearing Giroux’s comments on the frustration that led to Zubrus’ hit. “I’m not hitting anybody out there. I’m just trying to play the puck. People get mad because you played it.”

“For me it looks like textbook,” coach Peter DeBoer said of the hit. “Like the kind of hits we’re trying to get out of the game. I understand Gary Bettman and Bill Daly were here tonight. I’m sure they’ll look at that. That’s for people to make decisions above me.”

Giroux said he wasn’t a ‘dirty player.’ I think everyone is in agreement with that statement.

What he said after the cameras walked away were the grounds for the tape to be rewound to the beginning of his shift.

Giroux complained about Brodeur illegally playing the puck outside of the trapezoid. No penalty was called and Giroux started to complain to the on-ice official. He complained, not once, but twice. He wanted a power play and he was tired.

He then went after a Devil. It didn’t matter who it was, he just targeted one and ‘finished his check.’ The only problem with this is that his check ended up being his shoulder into Zubrus’ head.

This was also considered a blindside hit. Zubrus’ head stayed the same even after the puck leaves his possession. He doesn’t acknowledge Giroux coming in to do a check on him until after the hit.

It’s not like the Alexander Ovechkin hit on Dan Girardi, because Girardi sees Ovechkin coming and braces himself for impact. In the Giroux/Zubrus case, this is the type of hit that the league was adamant about having no tolerance for in the league…the blindside hits to the head.

But here’s where everything goes awry for Giroux that warranted his one game suspension…even though Zubrus returned to the game, it was his comments post-game that had Shanahan looking at the ‘intent’ of the hit…the building frustration prior to the hit.

In the replay, it was apparent that Giroux became frustrated after Brodeur was not called for a penalty. He voiced his disapproval once, and then skated down, turned back around and complained to the official again.

On tape, this is proof that there was intent to do harm, based out of anger. Giroux wasn’t targeting Zubrus per se (even though he had scored the Devils third goal of the game just two minutes prior). He was looking for any Devil.

Shanahan notes in his suspension video that Giroux slashed Zubrus (a sign of the continuing frustration) and then hit him in the head with his shoulder. Because this was Giroux’s first offense and Zubrus returned to the game, he was given a one game suspension for his actions. A blindside hit to the head, with intent to do harm, is still intolerable in the league. Also, actions such as these that are founded in anger will not be tolerated by the league.

If Zubrus had not returned to the game and was injured with a concussion, Giroux would have seen a 3-game suspension similar to what Carl Hagelin received for his hit on Daniel Alfredsson during the Rangers/Senators series in Round One.

Of course, Shanahan would not have backed the tape up that far if Giroux hadn’t said the reason why he did it all stemmed back to Brodeur’s illegal play and no penalty being called.

Now, the Flyers will be without their captain and superstar in Game 5 as they face elimination.

The Devils have totally dominated these last three games thanks to their outstanding forecheck.

The only guy keeping the Flyers from total embarrassment has been their goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov. Space monkeys, space dogs and bears aside, if it wasn’t for Bryzgalov, the Flyers would have had 8-10 goals against them in Game Four.

Bryzgalov faced 42 shots on goal. Brodeur, on the other hand, only saw 22 shots on goal. That is a prime example of who has been dominating this series.

This round has been close in each game. It wasn’t like the Flyers’ first round where they saw eight or ten goal games. In this round, the Devils are overworking the Flyers and they’re having a hard time getting the puck into the Devils’ zone. Sure, the Flyers are frustrated because they don’t know how to beat the Devils at this kind of game.

The secret to the Devils’ success has been in their forecheck. They have been able to dismantle their top players from Giroux on down. Jaromir Jagr? They have been able to dismantle him by turning his own moves against him. Their defense? The Devils make the exact same move each and every time along the boards and it beats their defense every single time.

Why haven’t the Flyers caught on to these techniques that are being implemented? It’s the same strategy in every game which is also proving to be the winning strategy for the Devils.

Without Giroux for Game Five, the Flyers will have to battle back even harder. Giroux missing from the lineup should not affect the team too much since Giroux has hardly done anything productive in this round. There is nothing detrimental about his absence, but his presence would have been better than nothing.

If the Flyers are eliminated in Game Five, Giroux will know that he contributed in costing his team the series. It will feel a lot like Joel Ward felt after the Rangers Game Five win over the Capitals. His penalty cost his team the game. It’s not something you can easily forgive yourself for.

For Brodeur, turning 40 on Sunday with a win and an assist on Zubrus’ empty net goal, this was a good birthday present for him. He’s the first goalie to play in the playoffs both as a teenager and at the age of 40. If anything, he’s still playing like he did when he was in his 20’s. That may mean he has a few more years left in him before retirement.

About The Author

Michelle Kenneth has been with Inside Hockey since 2007 as the beat reporter for the New Jersey Devils. She is also part of the IH team covering the New York Rangers. Since 2007, she's covered the Stanley Cup Finals, NHL All-Stars, NHL Awards, Winter Classic, Stadium Series and the NHL in Europe. You can follow Michelle on Twitter @MichelleKenneth and on her blog:

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