We’re into the final 10 games of the regular season and the inevitable separation has occurred in both conferences, the inevitable eroding of faint playoff hopes for many teams juxtaposed against those teams now more concerned with gaining home-ice advantage or hitting the postseason in some sort of groove. Sometimes late-season grooves mean nothing, but if you’re the St. Louis Blues, the recent play of netminder Brian Elliott has to be a good if not tremendous omen with the playoffs set to start in three weeks.
We happened to be traveling with the Blues earlier in the season when Elliott’s game was at a low ebb. With veteran Jaroslav Halak injured, Elliott could not carry the load and the decision was made to bring up untested rookie Jake Allen, who may have saved the Blues’ season with a three-game winning streak on the road. Elliott worked diligently with goaltending coach Corey Hirsch, even went back to an old set of pads in the hopes of finding the karma that saw he and Halak win the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals last season. At the time, coach Ken Hitchcock pointed out that Elliott was not a veteran goalie working through a slump but a young netminder (he will turn 28 tomorrow).
Halak is again injured, but it’s been Elliott who has answered the bell this time. He was outstanding Sunday as the Blues won their fourth straight game, edging the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena by a 1-0 count. Elliott stopped 28 shots, including 13 in the second period. More importantly, the win was the third in a row for Elliott. All three have come against quality opponents -- Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota -- and he has allowed just four goals over that span.
Agreed, it’s a small sample. But this is a netminder who had nine shutouts and a .940 save percentage last season. Can that player emerge again when the Blues need him most? And more to the point, is his recent play an indicator that such a renaissance is at hand?
Nothing’s a given. The Blues are as close to earning home-ice advantage in the first round with the fourth seed as they are from falling out of the playoff bracket altogether: four points separates them from both. But for a team that many, including this reporter, thought was ready to take a giant step forward in its evolution, the play of Elliott has definitely proved to be a bright light at the end of the regular-season tunnel.