CHICAGO – Claude Giroux is too focused on his current tasks to think about what lies ahead or what has already happened in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Giroux knows that he and his Philadelphia Flyers teammates are just four wins from the Stanley Cup as the Final against Chicago opens Saturday night at the United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). He knows that if his team can win the final race to four in these playoffs, he will be a Stanley Cup champion -- a goal that his filled his head since his childhood in Quebec.
He knows that at just 22, in just his first full season in the NHL, he has been presented with the rarest of opportunities to achieve instant success.
"Before Game 4 (of the Montreal series), (Ian) Laperriere came back and he made sure to tell me that he had been here for 16 years and never made it to the Final, so you are pretty lucky that you are 22 and (James) van Riemsdyk is 21," Giroux told NHL.com. "Obviously you guys are pretty lucky and hopefully you can enjoy the moment and just don't take it for granted."
Giroux has no plans to take his good fortune for granted. He knows he can't put his name on the Cup with mere thoughts. He must earn it, just as all the champions who have come before him did in the crucible of the Final.
"I told myself not to really think about (the Stanley Cup)," Giroux said late in the Eastern Conference Finals. "(We) just got to go game-by-game. I think that's one of the reasons why we're here. Now we just focus on the game we have in front of us and we're not looking at the big picture. I think if we keep doing that, just put all of our energy in that next game, I think it's huge. I think we should keep thinking like that."
While that might be a sound strategy when it comes to trying to win the Stanley Cup, it does not afford the player much opportunity to reflect on what he has accomplished along the way.
Giroux has enjoyed a stellar postseason, a true coming-out party to all but the most die-hard hockey fans.
On a team loaded with big names and high-end talent, Giroux sits third on the team in points (17) this postseason and second in goals, one behind the team-leading nine of Danny Briere. He has had a dominant game in each round of the postseason.
In the first round, he had 2 goals and an assist in the clinching game of a five-game ouster of the favored New Jersey Devils. In the second round, he got Philadelphia started on its historic comeback from a 0-3 series hole against the Bruins by contributing a goal and an assist in Game 4. Against Montreal in the last round, Giroux had a pair of goals, including the winner in Game 4, just 48 hours after Montreal attempted to claw its way back into the series with a dominant win in Game 3.
Those performances, as well his game-in, game-out consistency, have earned him headlines as well as the praise of his teammates. Again, Giroux is consciously oblivious to all that he has accomplished.
"I try not to think about it," Giroux said. "This isn't the time for that. But right now it is going well for me and hopefully I can keep it going."
"I wish I was drinking his water. This kid is unreal. He's shifty and he is such a player. The best thing about him is the bigger the game is the better he is and that is rare for a 22-year-old."
-- Ian Laperriere on Claude Giroux
"I wish I was drinking his water," Laperriere, a gritty, energy-line forward, told NHL.com. "This kid is unreal. He's shifty and he is such a player. The best thing about him is the bigger the game is the better he is and that is rare for a 22-year-old.
"He's one of those kids, you think he did the greatest move one day and he does a better move on the next shift. The bigger the game is, the bigger his game is and that is good news for us."
Giroux's ability to step up in the big game has also stood out to his coach, Peter Laviolette.
"One of Claude's biggest assets is he wants to be a game-breaker," Laviolette said. "He doesn't shy away from big moments and big opportunities. For a young player, that says a lot about Claude. He's a talented player. Everybody sees the plays that he makes, the passes, the goals he scores; but to have that desire and that drive to do it at such a young age, that is impressive to me."
Briere, a very similar player to Giroux, is fascinated with the youngster's willingness to embrace the moments he has been afforded, as well as his ability to play outside his comfort zone.
"I'm very impressed with him with the way he is playing and the way he is stepping up his game," Briere told NHL.com "If you ask any of the guys in the room, everybody knows about his skill level, his hands, his vision; one of the top guys in the League. The thing that has impressed me about him is how he has shown up to play and step up his game. He's not a big guy, but he's strong on the puck, he's not afraid."
Still others are more struck by Giroux's preternatural calmness. Nothing, it seems, rattles this kid.
James van Riemsdyk, in his first season in the NHL, is amazed that Giroux is only a year older. The two have been linemates for a while now and, van Riemsdyk raves about how Giroux is able to slow the game down by holding the puck on his stick and waiting for the perfect moment to execute just the right move.
"He is just so calm out there," van Riemsdyk said, shaking his head in disbelief. "He makes it easier to play the game.
But it is not just the impressionable youngsters that are left awestruck by Giroux's coolness under fire.
"Everyone has different mentalities when it comes to playing the game and I think I guy with his skills and his ability, I think he needs to let his mind go and be free," veteran center Blair Betts told NHL.com. "He is a young guy and he doesn't have a lot of experience, but he plays without any nerves. He shows a lot of maturity for such a young player."
And if Giroux is hesitant to ruminate on all that he has accomplished for feat that it will distract him from what is left to be accomplished, his teammates are happy to pick up the slack.
"He's one of the big reasons we are still playing today," Briere said.