Resurgence of Elliott played a big role for Blues

News-DemocratApril 28, 2013 

— Brian Elliott isn't about to dissect one of the hottest stretches of hockey in his career.

As the St. Louis Blues goaltender prepares for an opening-round playoff series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, Elliott's main task is finding a way to get four victories and send the Blues into the next round.

He's not one to spend much time talking about his own success.

"I'm not talking about last year and years in the past, it's about the next game you're playing," said Elliott, who set a Blues' record with 11 wins in April while winning 11 of his final 13 starts and posting a 1.28 goals-against average in a span that included three straight road shutouts.

"It doesn't really matter what you've done in the past or what you're going to do in the future. It's about the present."

Elliott has held teams to one goal or fewer in six of his last seven starts. He's given up no more than two goals 12 times in his last 14 appearances and will be in net for Tuesday's Game 1 at Scottrade Center against the Kings.

The same struggling goaltender who was 3-6-1 at one point with a 3.65 goals-against average has rebounded like a hard rubber ball fired off a brick wall.

An 11-2 stretch that includes a 1.28 goals-against average and .948 save percentage are viable numbers that amplify that improvement. They also show how Elliott now resembles the same all-star goalie from last season that led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56), save percentage (.940) and posted nine shutouts.

An obvious aid to the turnaround of both Elliott and the Blues has been the addition of veteran defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold.

The Blues have won 12 of 15 starts with Leopold in the lineup and 11 of 14 with Bouwmeester, who joined the team a game later.

"They definitely add steadiness back there, Bouwmeester with experience and Leo as well," Elliott said. "They've been able to skate the puck out of pressure and not really commit any big turnovers. They just provide that little bit of extra size of grit and skill level that has been huge for us."

But Elliott is the one stopping the pucks and providing a calming feeling of confidence and strength. He's controlling the big rebounds that bothered him at times earlier this season and isn't far removed from a humbling two-game conditioning stint in the minor leagues.

"He's just playing well. It's a nice feeling for all of us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The momentum is really with him because he's playing well (and) I think the players really trust his game right now.

"He's sound, he's consistent ... every game he seems to play about the same and that's what you want. You want to be able to trust your goalie and have a consistent performance knowing what you're going to get every night."

Hitchcock was asked if Elliott is playing at a higher level than he was last season.

"When he was on top of his game he had the highest save percentage and best goals-against average in the league," Hitchcock said. "I think he's playing about the same as he did last year. He's playing really well right now."

After Saturday's 3-1 win over Chicago, Hitchcock mentioned that Elliott was playing with an inner-ear infection during last season's second-round playoff loss to the Kings.

Elliott replaced injured Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak during the 2012 playoffs and finished 3-4 in eight games with a 2.37 goals-against average.

"No excuses in the playoffs as far as anything, everybody's battling something," Elliott said Sunday. "Last year doesn't really matter, it's about how you're feeling right now."

Elliott has a chance to redeem himself against a Kings team that beat him four times in last season's second-round sweep. He's also 0-3-0-1 against them in the regular season during his career.

"Where you can get in trouble against a team like that and some other teams around the league is they can get you into playing what they want to play," he said. "I think it's about sticking to our game, to our fundamentals and what we want to do --and keeping consistent.

"That's when we've gotten in trouble. We've played a really good against a team like that and then for five to 10 minutes you back off of that plan. ... I think it's just playing consistent."

Blues captain David Backes said the team has thrived because of Elliott's goaltending.

"He's been fantastic," Backes said. "He's a guy that works his butt off every day. He had some struggles early in the season and to see how hard he worked to get to the status where he's at now, it's gratifying for everyone around here.

"We're glad to have someone like that back there."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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