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Unmasked

Elliott making case to be Blues' No. 1 in playoffs

Returns from injury for consecutive shutouts, but St. Louis also has Allen

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he has not made up his mind on a starting goalie for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but with eight games left in the regular season, Brian Elliott may be deciding for him.

Elliott had a shutout in each of his first two games back after missing 10 with a knee injury, making 19 saves in a 3-0 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday and then 37 saves in a 1-0 win against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Elliott lost the starting job going into the playoffs last season because Jake Allen got on a hot streak to end the regular season, but it appears a strong finish to an already impressive season should be enough to keep Elliott in the No. 1 role this time.

Not that Hitchcock is in a hurry to make any declarations.

"I am not even thinking about it until the end here, and then I'm not sure, maybe we have to go with two guys," Hitchcock said. "We'll just make the judgment when the season is over and then we'll declare a guy."

Video: STL@SJS: Elliott stones DeMelo, rebound late in 3rd

Elliott leads the NHL with a .933 save percentage in 36 games; Allen's .917 save percentage ranks 21st among goaltenders who have played at least 35 games. Elliott leads the NHL in adjusted save percentage, which weighs shot quality by distance, in 5-on-5 (.9449) and all situations (.9230), according to war-on-ice.com, and tops the League with a .9038 save percentage against high-danger shots from the slot.

Not that statistics are the only factor in picking a playoff goaltender.

Allen missed six weeks with a knee injury, coming back just before Elliott got injured during a Feb. 22 game against the Sharks. Injuries to each goaltender complicate the playoff decision, Hitchcock said, but it never seems to be an easy one for the Blues, especially when it comes to Elliott.

Since arriving in St. Louis in 2011-12, Elliott's .925 save percentage ranks second to Cory Schneider among NHL goaltenders to play at least 150 games. Elliott led the NHL in save percentage and goals-against average in 2012, but watched Jaroslav Halak, who wasn't far behind statistically, start the playoffs for St. Louis. In 2014, the Blues acquired Ryan Miller to be their goaltender in the playoffs. Last season, Allen got the job.

Video: STL@SJS: Elliott denies Martin to keep it scoreless

Elliott did come on in relief of Halak during the 2012 playoffs despite an inner-ear infection, and started ahead of him in 2013, but there is a sense Elliott never really had a chance to run as a healthy No. 1 in the playoffs.

"He hasn't, and we've seen that first hand," Blues captain David Backes said. "Whether it's his turn or they flip-flop, I don't know what the plan is. The goaltending decision is not something I lose sleep over because it is not my call, but he does everything right as a professional, works his butt off every single day, and I think that's why he is where he is and he's been up to the task with everything we've asked. And if it's playoffs this time and he gets the baton, he will do a fantastic job. And if it's Jake, we expect him to do the same."

Blues players said it makes no difference who is in goal, but that doesn't mean there isn't a difference between the two.

"Yeah, there is," Hitchcock said. "Jake is more active in net; Brian is more conservative, both with the puck and in playing. Brian plays closer to the goal line. Jake plays closer to the edge, but they are both competitive as [heck], which fuels their camaraderie."

Video: STL@EDM: Allen prevents Draisaitl from extending lead

Hitchcock doesn't shy away from the fact Allen handles and passes the puck better, or that it makes a difference in how the Blues play.

"It does on the exits," Hitchcock said. "One guy we have flexibility, he can go either way, and the other guy, we have some automatics that we call. It is different, but our defense knows going in what we are going to do on exits depending on the goalie."

Hitchcock said he doesn't think that makes it any harder to go back and forth.

"No, because we've done it all year," Hitchcock said. "We've played 10 games one guy, 10 games the other. It's not like they've alternated back and forth. I think we can make this adjustment easy now because we've played extended minutes with each guy."

Video: STL@DAL: Allen denies barrage of close-range shots

That could come in handy because, as several players pointed out, teams sometimes need two goalies in the playoffs.

Most mentioned the Chicago Blackhawks, who relied on backup Scott Darling to get past the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round last season, then went back to Corey Crawford to win the Stanley Cup. Three-straight Cup winners needed two goalies from 2006 to 2008: Carolina Hurricanes rookie Cam Ward took over for Martin Gerber en route to the Stanley Cup in 2006; Ilya Bryzgalov posted the first three wins of the Anaheim Ducks' 2007 win before giving way to Jean-Sebastien Giguere; and Chris Osgood supplanted Dominik Hasek during the first round before leading the Detroit Red Wings to the Cup in 2008.

"We don't want to have uncertainty going into the playoffs," Blues forward Troy Brouwer said. "But as long as they are both playing well, we can lean on both of them when we need to."

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