SUNRISE — When Claude Giroux was traded to the Florida Panthers, the assumption was he would play up on the top line with Sasha Barkov and that would be that.
Then, he started playing with Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett and things went very well.
On Thursday, the Panthers lined up for Game 2 against the Washington Capitals with Giroux — a certain future Hall of Famer — on their third line.
And he seemed just fine with it.
”He has been awesome since he got here,” Carter Verhaeghe said.
The Panthers, coach Andrew Brunette has professed throughout this season, is a selfless bunch.
And Giroux fits right in.
“I think our locker room, our guys are very easy to get along with,” Brunette said before Florida beat the Capitals 5-1 on Thursday night.
“They are very welcoming and treat everyone the same. We don’t have any big egos. And that comes from our captain. We are a very comfortable team to come into. And I think G is an unassuming guy. He is a superstar, but he’s like a little kid who loves to play hockey, loves to compete.
“He’s just himself with the coaching staff and everyone in the organization. That’s easy to get synergy with a group.”
Giroux joined the Panthers in March, acquired in a blockbuster deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Florida not only gave up promising young forward Owen Tippett, but a first-round pick in 2024 as well as a third-round selection next year.
General manager Bill Zito said that the Panthers were certain Giroux was going to be a fit with his close-knit team before pulling the trigger on the deal.
Upon arriving, Giroux was placed on the top line with Barkov but that only lasted a few games before Giroux joined Huberdeau and Bennett.
In his final 18 regular season games with the Panthers, Giroux scored three goals with 23 points.
Those three played together for much of the next month — including the Game 1 loss to the Capitals in which Giroux opened the second period with a goal off a Brandon Montour rebound.
On Thursday, the Panthers decided to make another change, breaking up two very successful lines by trading right wings: Giroux for Sam Reinhart.
“When he’s on the ice, on the bench, he’s like another coach,” Brunette said. “He has seen it all, played in all these different moments. His IQ, how he sees the game is off the charts. And he has this leadership ability where guys listen to him and he is vocal on a team that doesn’t have a lot of vocal guys. He rallies the group and gets them ready to go.”
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS (TIED 1-1)
- Game 3: Saturday, 1 p.m.
- Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN
- Radio: WQAM 560 (flagship); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS
- Regular season series — Florida won 2-1: @Florida 5, Washington 4 OT (Nov. 4); @Washington 4, Panthers 3 (Nov. 26); @Florida 5, Washington 4 (Nov. 30)
- All-time regular season series: Capitals lead 67-44-11, 9 ties
- Playoff history: First meeting
- First-round schedule — Game 1: Washington 4, @Florida 2; Game 2: @Florida 5, Washington 1; Game 3: Florida at Washington, Saturday, 1 (ESPN/BSF); Game 4: Florida at Washington, May 9, 7 (TBS/BSF); Game 5: Washington at Florida, Wednesday (National TV, Time TBA); Game 6*: Florida at Washington, May 13; Game 7: Washington at Florida, May 15. *If necessary