This is the moment Brian Elliott has been waiting for his entire career — an opportunity to lead his team one step further up the ladder toward playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s something that you work hard your whole career for,” said Elliott, one of the biggest reasons the Blues are still around in the playoffs and will open their Western Conference Final series Sunday against the San Jose Sharks. “You become a goalie because you want to be counted on and you want to play kind of every minute of every game and be involved.
“When you have that opportunity, you’ve got to seize it, really cherish it. That’s what I’m trying to do is have fun with it, be the rock for these guys.”
He’s been both a rock and salvation for a Blues team that in recent years had trouble finding big saves at crucial moments in the playoffs. Elliott has done that and as a result, the Blues have left the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars in their playoff wake.
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Elliott’s playoff record before this season was 6-10. Now he’s won eight times and is looking for more.
This will be the Blues’ first conference final appearance since 2001 and only the second since 1986.
A team that was slammed from the playoffs in the first round in each of the last three years has now advanced three rounds in during the same season.
The Blues realize how close they are to realizing a dream, but the Sharks are directly in their path. The Tampa Bay Lightning is playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final.
When you have that opportunity, you’ve got to seize it, really cherish it. That’s what I’m trying to do is have fun with it, be the rock for these guys.
Blues goalie Brian Elliott
“One of these four teams is going to win the Cup and we’re thinking in this room, ‘Why not us?’” Blues captain David Backes said. “And we’re going to go out there and put the work in to do everything we can to take care of what we can control.”
The Blues have done more than capture the attention of their fans. They’ve captured the attention of an entire city with that flicker of hope that yes, this just might be their year.
“I think what I’ve come to understand is it’s bigger than just the hockey team,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “This is a lot bigger than just us.”
While it means a lot to Blues fans and the region, no one wants to taste playoff success more than the players wearing the uniforms.
Backes has spent the final few days of each previous playoff season explaining what went wrong. He patiently would stand and deal with question after question about the team’s playoff shortcomings and inability to advance past the opening round.
There’s a burning desire for guys like Backes and Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen and others who have endured too many playoff flameouts through the years.
This is their time. Are they ready for the challenge?
One of these four teams is going to win the Cup and we’re thinking in this room, ‘Why not us?’
Blues captain David Backes
“Yeah, I mean it’s 10 years, first time that I’ve been to a conference final,” said Backes, whose six goals in 14 playoff games are more than he scored in his previous five playoff appearances. “You know how much work it takes to get here, even just this season, this playoffs.
“It’s not going to be taken for granted for sure in this room. We’ve had to sacrifice and do a lot of things to get here and now we’ve gotten a little taste and it’s just made us hungrier to have this opportunity as one of the last four teams.”
Blues veteran forward Steve Ott believes the time is right for success.
“We are built for this now,” Ott said. “We have expected this out of ourselves. The core group has had the mentality from day one here. It started developing years ago and now it is all coming together.
“It’s everybody. You have great goaltending, the power play is playing well, the penalty kill is having success and you are rolling lines and defense. When you have that total package going together with a very competitive group, you are seeing the success.”
With everything the Blues have done to this point, knocking off Chicago and Dallas in rough seven-game series, they are only halfway done with the Stanley Cup trail.
There’s still two rounds to go.
“It’s a tall mountain to climb but as tough as it’s been, as much as it’s taken from this group to get to this point, it’s gratifying,” Backes said. “It’s worth it. The support you get, the gratifying feeling that you get going through a handshake line and smiling rather than wondering what came next, those types of feelings just make you yearn for more success and make you want to do it again the next round.”
Blues forward Troy Brouwer has won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks. Obtained in a trade with the Washington Capitals for T.J. Oshie, Brouwer was acquired for just this time of the year.
So far he hasn’t disappointed with five goals and 10 points in 14 playoff games.
“That was a good hockey trade I think for both teams,” Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said of the Oshie for Brouwer swap. “Washington is very happy with T.J. and we’re very happy with Troy. Neither team traded the player they traded for any reason other than they were getting a different style of player.
“We have players who play like T.J. on our roster right now and we needed someone who played like Troy Brouwer and they needed someone who played like T.J. Oshie. It was a really good fit. (Brouwer) goes to the blue area, he goes to the paint, he goes to the front of the net, he plays in the hard areas — and that’s something that we needed for the type of players we had around him.”