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“Many Ottawa fans will be cheering for the Panthers to win the Stanley Cup this spring.”

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Don’t be surprised if the good people of Ottawa welcome claude-giroux back to the Canadian Tire Center with open arms Thursday night.

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A day after suiting up for his 1,000th career game with the Philadelphia Flyers, the 34-year-old Giroux didn’t make the trip to Ottawa to face the Senators on March 18 and instead waited at home to get traded to the Florida Panthers .

As the Senators wrap up the home part of the schedule against Florida, many Ottawa fans will be cheering for the Panthers to win the Stanley Cup this spring because they’d love nothing more than to have Giroux sign here as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season.

The decision was made midway through this season that he wouldn’t finish his career with the Flyers and he chose Florida because he wants a chance to chase the coveted chalice this spring and the No. 1-ranked Panthers are big-time contenders this spring .

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The sense around the NHL is that if Giroux doesn’t win with the Panthers, he’ll choose another destination that has a chance to challenge next spring. That’s why many felt the Colorado Avalanche were in the mix when push was coming to shove at the deadline in March.

Giroux has looked right at home with the Panthers. He has three goals and 23 points in 18 games with Florida while playing mostly on a line with center Alexander Barkov and winger Carter Verhaeghe.

But if Giroux does get a chance to bring back the Cup to Ottawa this summer to spend time with family and friends, then there’s a definite “MAYBE” the Senators would have a shot at him as a UFA when the market opens July 13.

He has ties to the area, makes his home here in the off-season, there’s been speculation in NHL circles he’d like to play for the Senators at some point and Giroux would be the perfect fit for a young team that’s growing.

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We’ve been led to believe Giroux is interested and intrigued about the possibility of playing for the Senators. The club is loaded with young talent, including captain Brady Tkachukalong with Tim Stuetzle, Drake Batherson, Shane Pinto, Josh Norris, Alex Formenton and Thomas Chabot.

Plus, top prospect defenseman jake sanderson from the University of North Dakota is on the way and many believe he’ll be a dominant player at the NHL level.

The presence of Giroux would go a long way in helping GM Pierre Dorion, assistant GM Peter MacTavishsenior VP Pierre McGuirecoach DJ Smith and the rest of the hockey operations staff assist this team in making the next step.

No, Giroux wouldn’t be the captain, but he’d still have a big role here.

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He’s one of the best players in the faceoff circle in the NHL and went into Thursday’s game ranked No. 10 overall with a 60.9 per cent winning-percentage. By comparison, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is No. 1 with a 62.4.

Can you imagine Ottawa’s young centers — Norris, Stuetzle, Pinto and Colin White — having the chance to spend every day after practice working with Giroux on how to be effective when taking a draw?

If Giroux wants to come here in the summer, the people of Ottawa would roll out the welcome mat.

THE LAST WORDS

Smith noted Tuesday he’d use both goalies to end the season.

that means Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavson will split this back-to-back series between the Panthers and the Flyers on Friday night on the road.

Gustavsson is headed back to the club’s AHL affiliate in Belleville on the weekend to try to help them in the post-season. He’ll share the duties with Mad’s Sogaard once he gets healthy.

If Gustavsson is going to play in the club’s final game Saturday against the Toronto Marlies, then it might make sense for him to start this one. Forsberg is coming off a 37-save performance against the Devils on Tuesday.

[email protected]

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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