PHILADELPHIA – It was only fitting Claude Giroux would become the hero of the Flyers’ playoff clincher.
After all, he had already staked his claim to a possible Hart Trophy (NHL most valuable player) long before his three-goal hat trick performance in Saturday afternoon’s 5-0 win over the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Giroux scored twice in the Flyers’ three-goal second period and after that, the only suspense remaining was the identity of the first-round playoff opponent.
The Flyers’ win officially eliminates the Florida Panthers from the second wild card spot but after that, Philadelphia (98 points) had to wait for Saturday night action to end to determine where they would finish in the standings.
If both New Jersey and Columbus (each with 97 points) were to lose in regulation time on Saturday night, the Flyers could jump all the way up to third place in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Giroux scored at 12:24 of the second period for his 100th point of the season, putting in some elite company. He became the sixth player in Flyers history to hit triple digits, joining Bob Clarke (three times), Mark Recchi (twice), Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish and Eric Lindros.
The landmark goal came on a shot from the left circle with rookie Nolan Patrick running interference in front of New York veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was seeking redemption for a shootout loss here in 2010, which sent the Flyers to the playoffs and the Rangers home early.
But there would be no vindication on this day. After the Giroux goal, Michael Raffl scored at 17:53 and then Giroux struck again just six seconds later.
Brian Elliott picked up the shutout win in goal for the Flyers.
Giroux’s three points (for 102 points) temporarily moved him ahead of Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov (100 points) into second place in NHL scoring. Edmonton’s Connor McDavid leads with 106 points. Both Kucherov and McDavid were scheduled to play their final games on Saturday night.
After Giroux’s second goal, fans stood and gave him a loud ovation, chanting “MVP! MVP!’’
Giroux was asked at the second intermission about getting the magical 100th point, especially in such a big situation.
“It feels great,’’ he said. “Fans really made me feel special and I’m pretty happy about that. When you get those kind of milestones it’s great. I mean, I really don’t know what to say.”
Giroux scored his third goal on a breakaway at 10:11 of the third period and the hats rained down from the crowd. Later, he waved in appreciative acknowledgement of the reception.
“It (the fans’ ovation) was hard to miss,’’ he said. “They were great tonight, they gave us a boost. Overall we played a solid game, the way we wanted to. It’s great to be in the playoffs.’’
The game drew a new Wells Fargo Center regular-season record crowd of 20,028.
The Flyers jumped to an important 1-0 lead at 6:34 during a delayed penalty call against the Rangers.
Sean Couturier flipped a high pass into the slot, the puck struck a charging Ivan Provorov in the midsection and past Lundqvist.
Was Couturier trying a billiards bank shot there?
“Maybe not on purpose,’’ Couturier said. “But I was trying to get it over Lundqvist. I didn’t have much of an angle, I was just trying to get it over him and hopefully have someone put it in.’’
After the game, the Flyers headed to television sets to see if it would be possible to determine their opponent in the playoffs.
There were so many scenarios, it was impossible to predict an outcome, what with New Jersey, Columbus, Boston and Tampa Bay in action.
For a few hours, however, the Flyers didn’t have to worry about that.
Elliott got his first shutout as a Flyer and liked the way his team played in front of him.
“Yeah and that’s a tough game for them (the Rangers) to play, too,’’ Elliott said.
“It’s the last game of your season and you know you’re going home early, it could’ve gone the other way from the get-go. They’re not playing with any pressure. It’s just kind of wheeling-dealing and we shut that down right away with the way we were playing. Our D, blocking pucks, jumping on guys quick, we played with that extra bit of energy for sure.’’
The Flyers had to play hard from February right down to game No. 82, but that might serve them well in the postseason.
“Yeah definitely,’’ Provorov said. “I think starting early February we had a 12-game point streak, after that we’ve been playing lots of teams that have been in the playoffs and playing lots of hard games. So, I think the last two months definitely helped us to prepare for the playoffs.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol looked somewhat relieved that his team played with such precision in a high-pressure game.
“We had a lot of good performances,’’ he said. “That’s it takes in a game like this. Everybody has to go out and be good. We were playing against a team that all kinds of ability in their lineup. We just want to give them anything easy.’’
The old regular-season attendance record was 20,011, set in a game against Washington on Dec. 21, 2016. . .The goals by Raffl and Giroux six seconds apart establish a new franchise record. The old mark was seven seconds (three times). . .Giroux registered eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points in a season-ending 10-game scoring streak.