Claude Giroux skated out as the first star in the Philadelphia Flyers' 5-4 win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night as more than 18,000 fans saluted him for his 1,000th career NHL game and what might be his final appearance as a Flyer.
Giroux, 34, is expected to be moved ahead of Monday's trade deadline. The Florida Panthers are considered the front-runners for the center, although the Colorado Avalanche have also shown interest. Giroux is in the final year of his contract before unrestricted free agency, a contract that carries a full no-movement clause.
"I feel like I've had a great relationship with the fans and the city. I get them. They get me," Giroux said after the game. "I love them. That's one of the reasons why tonight was so tough."
He played 17:47 and didn't register a point. He has 42 points in 57 games this season, his 15th in the NHL.
Giroux was honored before the game for hitting 1,000 career games. His father, Raymond, read the starting lineup in the Flyers' locker room. His teammates took the ice for warm-ups in jerseys featuring his No. 28, his nameplate and his captain's "C" on the front. He was given a silver stick by Flyers Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke. Giroux's son Gavin was with him for the ceremony.
After the game, Giroux was named first star and took a lap around the ice, with his teammates banging their sticks in his honor.
"During the game, I was trying to keep it together. Then the third period hit. The crowd, my teammates made it extra special," Giroux said. "I don't get very comfortable with attention like that. But saying that, it was awesome."
After the game, Giroux saw his family and friends who were in attendance and was given the "player of the game" sweater by his teammates.
"He's given everything he has to the city. Even though the season hasn't gone the way we wanted to and trade rumors have been swirling, he's handled it professionally," said center Kevin Hayes.
Giroux finished his last shift with 1:55 left in the third period. Joel Farabee scored with 1:19 left to give the Flyers a 5-4 lead. Giroux didn't return to the ice to protect the lead. Flyers interim coach Mike Yeo said that was "a little asset management," joking that if he had put Giroux out there and he was injured blocking a shot in those final moments "there would have been an interim to an interim coach."
It was a good decision as far as Giroux is concerned, who admitted that "mentally, I wasn't set to be out there" for the end of the game. Giroux said that recalling the faces of former teammates whom he bid farewell to when they left the Flyers, gave his situation some perspective.
"I know it's tough when you leave a team. But I actually didn't realize how tough it is. I wish I knew back then. It's not something that's really fun," he said.