To say it's surprising that the Philadelphia Flyers have surged into second place in the Metropolitan Division may be an understatement.
With their dismal start well in the rear-view mirror, the Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and captain Claude Giroux is among the league leaders in points heading into Thursday night's home matchup with the Dallas Stars.
The Flyers' early struggles cost Peter Laviolette his job while Giroux struggled to get his team going. The forward had only seven assists through his first 15 games, and that slow start played a key role in keeping him off Canada's Olympic team.
Philadelphia (36-25-7) is surging now, though, going 10-2-1 since Feb. 1 to take a one-point lead with two games in hand on the New York Rangers for second place in the division.
Giroux scored with 4.2 seconds left in overtime to give the Flyers a 3-2 victory over Chicago on Tuesday for their third straight win. His 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) since Dec. 11 are the most in the league.
"He's playing hard. He's leading our team," coach Craig Berube said. "It starts on the bench. He's vocal. He does a good job of keeping everybody going."
Giroux also added an assist on Scott Hartnell's first-period goal, and his 71 points on the season rank among the top five in the league.
"He's playing phenomenal," Hartnell said. "He's leading us in the dressing room. He's leading us on the ice every day in practice. It's pretty exciting to be a part of it, be on his line."
Tuesday's victory kicked off a brutal four-game homestand that also includes visits from NHL-leading St. Louis on Saturday and Los Angeles on Monday.
"They're up for it," Berube said. "They know the situation that's at hand. We need points. We've got to win hockey games. Our guys are ready. They're competitive and they're working hard."
The Stars (32-25-11) could use points as well, trailing Phoenix by two points for the West's final wild-card spot. They lost 7-2 to Winnipeg on Sunday to open a three-game road trip before Tuesday's 5-1 loss to Pittsburgh.
They've dropped three straight overall and are 1-3-1 in their last five on the road.
"It's just about bearing down and playing a full 60 (minutes)," leading scorer Tyler Seguin told the team's official website. "I thought there were times we were competing and skating well, but it wasn't for the full three periods."
Seguin scored against the Jets and Penguins and has six goals and six assists over his last seven games, setting a career high for points with 70. He had a hat trick and added an assist in Dallas' 5-1 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 7 as the Stars ended a six-game skid in the series.
Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves Tuesday in his return from missing four games with a concussion. He's 0-10-1 with a 3.50 goals-against average in 11 career starts against the Flyers, though it's uncertain if he'll start this contest.
Ray Emery got the start against Chicago and made 23 saves after Steve Mason started both ends of a home-and-home sweep of Pittsburgh over the weekend. It's unclear who will be in net against the Stars.