"Stay square in the net. Make yourself as big as possible. Look the puck into your boddy. Control the rebound. Save the Blues' season more than once."
Of course the Blues announced Sunday that Jaroslav Halak is unavailable for tonight's Game 3 in San Jose after Barret Jackman collided with the netminder, sending him to the dressing room Saturday night. We should have seen this coming. It's the only logical next step in the rebirth of Brian Elliott. The "backup" goaltender has saved the season for the Blues more than once this crazy year.
You might remember, Elliott had a strong start to his career in Ottawa where he won the starting job at age 23. His numbers were pretty good, he led them to the playoffs and he sucked. At the beginning of last season he was a fine member of the Senators. And then he went 13-19-9, stopped only 89.4 percent of shots allowed and gave up 3.19 goals a game. It was enough to get him shipped to Colorado. There, he went 2-8-1 (his two wins were against Columbus and Edmonton), saw his save percentage drop slightly to 89.1 percent while he allowed 3.83 goals a game. He was rewarded for his efforts last season by the Blues with a one-year, two-way contract. Guys starting playoff games in goal aren't supposed to be on two-way contracts. Brad Fucking Winchester was signed to a two-way contract when he joined the team a few years back.
But a funny thing happened on his way to Peoria to make less money. He won the backup goalie job and was in the catbird seat when Halak struggled to start the season winning only one of his first seven games. Elliott won 10 of his first 11 starts, including three shutouts in that span. And despite his strong play, when Ken Hitchcock was hired in early November, Halak was given the first couple starts. No worries. Elliott twould take over as the unofficial starter.
In early December, Elliott saw Chicago, Detroit, San Jose and the Rangers. Halak saw ice time against Colorado, Anaheim, Nashville and Columbus during that same time span. The league noticed and named Elliott the lone Blues representative at the All-Star Game. He was even given the chance to get the win in that exhibition game before allowing six goals in the third, the most of any goalie in the game. Oops.
Starting Feb. 23, Halakput the pressure back on Elliott. He would win 10 of 11 starts including nine in a row. How would the goalie no other team would offer a guaranteed NHL contract to respond? Three straight shutouts in mid-March and finishing the season with the best goals-against average and save percentage in the league. And still, when the playoffs opened last Thursday, Halak was the starter. The guy has been counted out, disregarded and passed over -- all in less than 12 months and several times on the same team. Yet there he was Saturday night, coming onto the ice to a huge ovation and then promptly stopping all 17 shots he faced in cementing the shutout win for the Blues.
I'm not saying this is the same story at all, but there was a time in St. Louis when a local sports team traded for a high-priced player, saw him go down to a freak injury and the almost unknown backup led the team to winning the Super Bowl. What do I know. I ranked the guy the 19th most important player on the team at the beginning of the season.
So Blues fans, how do you feel about Brian Elliott? Ever see anything like this story this guy is writing this season? Plenty of time before the puck drops tonight on the West Coast. Weigh in down in the comments.