To Blues players, the past two postseason experiences haven’t been kind. To Brian Elliott, they have been downright frustrating.
No other goaltender in franchise history has as many shutouts as Elliott (25), and only three have more than his 104 wins as a Blue. Yet, the goalie has appeared in just 15 of the club’s 27 postseason games since his arrival in the 2011-12 season. Two of those were partial games and seven more were in relief of an injury.
What’s more, Elliott has only been healthy for six of those starts, as he battled an inner-ear infection when called upon in 2012. And it seems like since that point, the hockey gods have been doing their best to keep Elliott out of the net after the regular season.
It’s become common for Elliott to being looked over. Two seasons ago, the Blues brought in Ryan Miller as a potential postseason spark. Miller would start all six games against Chicago in an eventual 4-2 series loss. Last year was a similar result as red-hot rookie goalie Jake Allen earned the playoff workload and the team was eliminated before Elliott could provide relief.
“He’s definitely put the work in and now he has the reigns to take this however he deems it and to backstop us and stop the puck,” said captain David Backes. “He is razor focused right now and moving forward we expect him to continue to do what he does best which is work his butt off, battle his butt off and continue to make big saves at big times.”
Elliott is coming off one of the most successful seasons of his career. Statistically, there is only one prior season that comes close after the goaltender posted a 23-8-2 record and a league-best .930 save percentage in this year’s regular season.
“I haven’t really put too much thought into it,” said Elliott. “It’s just every game this year when you have had the opportunity to play, you just want to be the best for the guys as the backstop. It doesn’t really change going into here. If you put too much pressure on yourself, it goes against you.”
Elliott will start Game 1 tonight and for once, it’s his job to lose. It’s not to reward the goaltender. Head coach Ken Hitchcock described it differently.
“I don’t see it as a reward; I see it as earned,” said Hitchcock. “He’s done a great job sticking with it. He fought two injuries this year and you have to give him a lot of credit for that. He has earned it. He’s earned the chance to start.”
The assignment has been a long time coming. Elliott has been solid in the postseason, despite what his skewed numbers may indicate. In 19 games, Elliott has posted a 6-10 record with a .897 save percentage. Four of those games and the result of the poor save percentage, were played back in 2009-10 with Ottawa, when Elliott had a .857 save percentage. With fairness to the statistics, in this case they mean little.
Since his Ottawa days, Elliott has gone 5-8 in the playoffs, including backstopping the Blues to three straight wins and a series victory over San Jose in 2012. Though the Blues were swept by Los Angeles in the following round, the second-round taste is something Elliott has and longs for with this year’s team.
“It’s this season,” said Elliott. “It’s today. There is no past seasons, there is no future, it’s today. That’s how I am preparing this. Do your best and come here to work every day. It’s how I try to approach every game, every day. You’re only here for so long so you have to approach it one day at a time. You just have to manage every day and when it comes time to play that game, it’s that game and nothing else matters.”
Elliott says he has learned over the years that less is more when it comes to analyzing the situation.
“The intensity goes up, obviously,” said Elliott. “It’s how you manage that intensity and get back to your standard level of play and your standard attitude. If you start thinking, you put too much pressure on yourself.”
Tonight will be Elliott’s first postseason start in two seasons and it will come in a year where the veteran battled back from a couple of injuries and was able to hold court with the best the league had to offer in net.
Two injuries to Allen, one of them late in the season, opened the door for Elliott. He didn’t let it close, even while battling several of his own ailments.
“Every season has its roller coaster rides that you have to stay even-keeled through,” said Elliott. “This one was different. When you play those 82 games and finish the season, you kind of sit back and think about it. It’s another regular season in the books and something to be proud of and now you get ready for the big dance. That’s why you play.”
Tonight will be the start of what the Blues hope will be a long run to the Stanley Cup. It would be fitting if it were Elliott to lead them to the promised land.
“I think he wants a crack at the playoffs,” said Hitchcock. I admire that and he’s going to get it."