NEWARK - Maybe the rest of the hockey world is counting out the Philadelphia Flyers, who must save their season Tuesday without the services of their best player.
But not Peter DeBoer.
In fact, in a candid interview with QMI Agency shortly after the NHL announced that Philadelphia star Claude Giroux had been slapped with a one-game suspension, the New Jersey Devils coach stressed just how dangerous the Flyers will be in Game 5 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal at the raucous Wells Fargo Center.
"I know it might sound silly, but I don't think (Giroux) being out will be an advantage to us," DeBoer said over the phone from Philly, where the Devils' team bus had just arrived.
Surely, DeBoer can't be serious.
Surely, he must realize the loss of Giroux leaves a big hole in the lineup of the Flyers, who trail the series 3-1.
But there is method to DeBoer's madness. He saw firsthand what happens when a team is missing a key player when Ilya Kovalchuk was unable to play in Game 2 of this series because of a lower back ailment.
"We won that game (4-1) in Philly without Ilya because our guys used his absence as a rally point. And I expect that's what the Flyers will do without Giroux. That's exactly what I told my players."
While DeBoer agreed with the league's ruling, he stressed that Giroux is not a cheap-shot artist.
"I don't think you ever are happy seeing one of the best players in the league suspended like Claude," he said. "I know Claude. He's not a dirty player.
"But, as I've said before, those are the types of hits that the league is trying to get out of the game."
In making his ruling, NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan clearly wasn't blinded by the fact that Giroux is one of the league's elite players. Nor did he seem to be influenced by the fact that taking a player of Giroux's calibre out of the lineup for an elimination game would put the Flyers at a disadvantage.
And for that, we applaud him.
Upon reviewing the video, Shanahan, like the rest of us who were at the Prudential Center for the Devils 4-2 win in Game 4 Sunday night, clearly could see that Giroux, already riled up because of what he perceived to be a non-penalty call against Devils goalie Martin Brodeur earlier in his shift, was eyeballing New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus and made a bee line for him.
True, Giroux hit Zubrus with his shoulder. But that doesn't take away from the fact that:
a) Giroux nailed Zubrus right in the side of the face, earning a minor penalty for an illegal hit to the head.
b) The puck was at least 20 feet away from Zubrus when the hit was made.
In his video explaining the decision, Shanahan notes that Giroux was angered prior to the incident and actually turned his back to the play to yap at one of the officials. He then pursued Zubrus, "chops down on his stick," then delivers the blow to Zubrus's head with his shoulder.
"I feel fine," Zubrus said Monday. "I'm happy I can continue to play without stopping and will be in the lineup (Tuesday)."
Keep this in mind, too: Giroux has no history of supplementary discipline. Having said that, his actions seem to reflect the frustrations of a Flyers team that has been outperformed in every aspect of the game in this series.
"I was just trying to finish my hit, and he kind of leaned in and I kind of hit him, my shoulder to his head," Giroux told Philadelphia reporters about an hour before he was suspended.
"My elbow was down. I didn't jump. It's a good thing he didn't get hurt. Obviously, I'm a pretty honest player. I'm not a dirty player, I'm not there to hurt anybody. I was just trying to finish my hit."
Giroux admitted being upset on that same shift that officials had not called Brodeur for, in his opinion, playing a puck outside the trapezoid. Moments later, after chirping with one of the officials and then with the Devils' Patrik Elias, Giroux set his sights on Zubrus.
"In the playoffs, (Shanahan) has got a lot to work on," Giroux told the Philly media. "There's a lot of suspensions. Whatever decision he decides, I'm going to respect it, and we'll go from there."
But now that their best player is out, just where will the Flyers go?
"They're playing for their lives right now," Brodeur said Monday.
And without Claude Giroux, that will be an even tougher task.