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Elliott Taking Blues to New Heights

by Staff Writer / St. Louis Blues

DALLAS -- The saves came one after another. Boom. Boom.

The pass came from Patrick Sharp, toward the center of the ice, for Cody Eakin, a player who had missed out on a handful of pretty setups from Sharp already in this game. This time, Eakin didn't miss. His shot went where it needed to go, but Brian Elliott was there, his left pad stopping the first attempt, his right pad stopping the second.

"You try to get over, get big, steal the ice, take care of any garbage left out in front," Elliott said. "It was kind of a bang-bang play, didn't have much room. Just tried to be big."

He was. It was.

And so the St. Louis Blues retained their two-goal lead, after those saves at 3:52 and 3:54 of the third period, going on to win 4-1 Saturday against the Dallas Stars in Game 5 in the Western Conference Second Round at American Airlines Center. That sets the Blues up for a potentially series-deciding Game 6 at Scottrade Center Monday (7 p.m. CT; CBC, NBCSN, TVAS2), with St. Louis holding a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.

The Blues will try to erase their struggles in that game, limit the chances for the Stars, bury any thoughts of past comebacks by opponents or disappointments in big spots or not enough when they required more.

But in this series, in these playoffs, Elliott has mostly given the Blues exactly what they have needed, exactly when they have needed it. Like, say, those saves on Eakin.

"They threw everything they had at us and made some really good plays and that was one of them," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "He made probably three or four big ones there and that was huge. It kind of woke us all up and we were able to feed off of it.

"He told us: He said I'm going to make those big saves. He's been doing it for us these entire playoffs and it's just been amazing."

With the two teams coming into Game 5 tied at 2-2, much of what has been the different in the series has come down to goaltending, with Elliott being the better of the players who have stood in net for the two teams. He has stolen games for the Blues, in ways that Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have not quite been able to do for the Stars.

Elliott made 27 saves Saturday, allowing one goal, at 10:58 of the first period by Alex Goligoski. None were bigger than the two on Eakin.

"He tells us before the games that he's got a couple big saves," Shattenkirk said. "Just like we have guys making big plays out there, sparking a little energy, he does the same for us. That's what he prides himself in. He makes them because he's just following the puck so well. His head is so focused right now. It's just so great to see."

Through 12 games this postseason, Elliott has a 2.20 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. The latter number is the third-highest of the goalies remaining in the playoffs behind Braden Holtby (.945) of the Washington Capitals and Matt Murray (.944) of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Elliott has not been perfect, but he has done enough.

That was particularly important in the first period, when the Stars came hard and the chances were in their favor. And though they misfired on a number of them, helping to beat themselves with an inability to finish, Elliott managed to control the rest.

"We've relied on him to make big saves all year," Blues forward Scottie Upshall said. "He's so confident and calm. If we take care of second opportunities he's a guy that smothers pucks. He's flexible, he sees the ice well, he's very underrated with playing the puck.

"We count on him like a third defenseman back there, not only our goalie. We rely on him. He's confident, he's a smart goalie, and we want to keep him going."

With the win Saturday, the Blues have put themselves one win away from the Western Conference Final heading back to St. Louis. They will have a home crowd and a home building, familiar ice and familiar fans in a situation not at all familiar. It has been 15 years since the Blues made the conference final, losing then to the Colorado Avalanche in five games.

And while they know the challenge ahead, know the Stars will put up a fight Monday, they also know how close they are. They know what happens if they get the win in Game 6. It is tantalizing. It is close.

"We've worked hard all series, even in the series before this to try and give ourselves as many opportunities to clinch as we can," St. Louis forward Troy Brouwer said. "The last time, it took us a couple more games than we would have liked. We've learned a lot from those situations and I think especially going home here for Game 6, it's going to be a real important game for us to try to close this out as soon as possible."

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