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Elliott to Start Game 4; Halak Not Ready

by Staff Writer / St. Louis Blues
SAN JOSE – Brian Elliott will make his second straight start Thursday night at HP Pavilion for the St. Louis Blues in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the San Jose Sharks, coach Ken Hitchcock said Tuesday.

Hitchcock ruled out injured goaltender Jaroslav Halak for Game 4. Halak hasn't played since suffering a lower-body injury early in the second period of Game 2, when Blues defenseman Barret Jackman accidentally skated into him at high speed.

The Blues, who beat the Sharks 4-3 on Monday night to take a 2-1 series lead, held an optional off-ice workout, but Halak spent some time on the ice.

"He was on the ice, but he's not going to be available to practice full tomorrow or to back up on Thursday," Hitchcock said.

Jake Allen, who was called up from Peoria of the American Hockey League for Game 3, will serve as Elliott's backup again Thursday.

Since entering Game 2 in relief, Brian Elliott has made 43 saves on 46 shots, good for a 1.82 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. (Getty Images)
Hitchcock said the fact that Halak got on the ice indicates he's "making progress," but not enough to warrant a return to the lineup.

Elliott combined with Halak for a 3-0 shutout in Game 2 and earned the win in Game 3. He spent the season sharing the goaltending job with Halak, but until Halak recovers from his injury, Elliott will carry the full load, which should give him a chance to get into a postseason groove.

"That's to be proved, I guess," Elliott said. "It's just an opportunity to get in there and help the guys. I'm not really looking at anything differently than that."

Hitchcock said he's not worried about the heavier workload affecting Elliott's play.

"I don't want to say it's easier to play in the playoffs, but I think it is easier because you're not traveling as much," Hitchcock said. "You know the opponent, you get lots of rest. It is easier. It's easier – the stress and everything's there – but I think it's the travel that kicks you hard. I think when you get into one hotel and get into one city, the routine fits in for the players and it's easier, especially for goaltenders. Plus, they get a bead on the shooters. I find they get a bead on shooters more, and they get into their own simple routine. I don't think it’s the same as the regular season."

Elliott couldn't help but smile when he heard Hitchcock's theory.

"I wouldn't say easier," Elliott said. "I wouldn't use that term, but you definitely get to know the guys on the other team and know their tendencies, but they know yours, too, and they know how your team plays, too. So it goes back and forth. That's what's unique about the playoffs. Even though the game's over, there's still little carry-ons and different battles between different guys on the ice. I don't think it goes any differently for goalies."

The Blues built a 3-1 lead through two periods and moved ahead 4-1 early in the second period of Game 3 when they notched their third power play goal. But the Sharks scored twice late in the period on goals by Colin White and Logan Couture. Then Couture nearly tied it in the final seconds on a deflection in the closing seconds.

"We were [mad] at ourselves," Hitchcock said. "We went to sleep for five minutes. I think it's like anything else -- you want to finish it off the right way. I think from an attention standpoint, I think that really got our attention. I think that's a good thing. I think it's another one of those lessons that you talk about, but it seems in hockey or any team sport you have to experience it. It's another lesson for us that the clock goes to 60. It doesn't go to 55. We got away with one. If that tip by Couture goes in, we might be still playing. So it's a good lesson for us."

What did they learn?

"That their offense hasn't gone anywhere -- that they're still there and if we try and take them lightly or take our foot off the gas at all, they're going to put them in the back of the net in a hurry, and they showed that," Blues center David Backes said. "Lesson learned that three goals, two goals, one goal, whatever it is, we've got to stay on the attack, stay hungry and not get in that prevent defense where we're on our heels because you go down their whole roster and they're all capable of burying one on you."

The Blues have scored five power-play goals in the series, but Hitchcock said he doesn't want his team to start counting heavily on the man advantage.

"Because you're waiting for the other team to screw up if you do that," Hitchcock said. "To me, our power play has given us a little advantage in the series. It's helped here for us, but at the end of the day it's going to end up being a series of 5-on-5 play is going to win. Of the two teams, we're the team that has to improve the most 5-on-5.

"I'm not looking for more offense; I'm looking for better play. In order to win the next game, we have to play better 5-on-5. I think we've had some really good stretches, but I think overall we need to play better 5-on-5. We can play better. And whether it's continually tweaking things lineup wise, I'm not sure. I think we have to explore all options to help us play better."

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