Claude Giroux had his coach call him the best player in the world.
Giroux needed one shift to prove that claim is more than hometown hype.
He flattened Sidney Crosby only 5 seconds into the game, buried his sixth goal of the series past Marc-Andre Fleury 27 seconds later, and led a Philadelphia Flyers charge into the second round.
Giroux wrapped up a dominant series with a goal and two assists, Ilya Bryzgalov had his first outstanding effort in net and the Flyers beat the 108-point Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-1, on Sunday to win their Eastern Conference opening-round series in six games.
"G is a very special player," Bryzgalov said. "There's not very many players like that in the world."
Giroux strapped the Flyers to his 24-year-old back and gave them an opening shift to remember. In a series where no lead was safe, the Flyers scored the first three goals and made it stand behind stout defense and stellar play out of Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov allowed 20 goals in the first five games. He settled down in Game Six and gave up only Evgeni Malkin's goal in the second period.
The Flyers had stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series before Pittsburgh won two straight. A day before Game Six, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell called out his defense and Bryzgalov and said it was their turn to win a game.
The Flyers delivered with 40 blocked shots.
"Guys were sacrificing their bodies to block shots and were paying the price taking hits to make plays," Hartnell said. "It was awesome to see."
Bryzgalov was at last the shutdown goalie the Flyers expected when they gave him $51 million to steady one of Philadelphia's weak links. He outplayed Fleury and helped the Flyers advance to the conference semifinals for the third straight season.
Fleury had seemingly pulled it together after some awful efforts in Games Two and Three. He steadied the Penguins in a Game Five victory and had the Penguins feeling confident about sending the series back to Pittsburgh for Game Seven.
So much for that.
"We needed to play perfect hockey to stay in this series, to win this series, and we didn't get the kind of start we needed today," Crosby said. "We felt like we could get it back to Pittsburgh, and now we have some time to think about why we didn't."
Crosby had no time to think on the first shift.
Moments after Giroux leveled him, the Flyers winger took the loose puck and fired from the circle for a 1-0 lead. He gestured toward the crowd and slammed the glass in celebration, firing up 20,000 fans that hadn't had much to cheer about the last two games.
"I wasn't planning to hit Crosby," Giroux said. "Just sometimes when you have a chance to hit another player, you've got to go out there and do it."
It's clear Giroux had something big in mind.
"When the best player in the world comes up to you and says, 'I don't know who you're starting tonight, but I want that first shift,' that tells you everything you need to know about Claude Giroux," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.
It was Philadelphia's first even-strength goal since Giroux scored one in Game Three.