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Elliott will continue to be Blues' backbone

Play of goaltender will determine how far St. Louis goes in playoffs

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- There was help, near the end of the game. With fewer than four minutes remaining in Game 7 on Monday, the puck bounced off both posts, first the left then the right, behind Brian Elliott. It was a touch of luck for a goalie who, through most of the Western Conference First Round series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, didn't really need it. Elliott, on his own, was more than good enough.

"He was our best player all series long," Blues captain David Backes said. "You've got good goaltending, you've got a great chance. We're going to need more great goaltending against a high-powered offense in Dallas, but he's a guy that's battled his whole career to get this opportunity to be focused and be ready for this. He hasn't disappointed one bit."

It was the other goaltender who had been tested, through playoff runs and Stanley Cup winning performances. And while Corey Crawford and Elliott, with rare exceptions, withstood what they were handed by their opponents, it was Elliott who emerged.

He emerged, too, from the shadow of Jake Allen. The pair of Elliott and Allen had been one of two tandems to each earn at least 20 wins this season. The other, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, wait in the second round, when the Blues play the Dallas Stars.

But unlike Dallas and coach Lindy Ruff, who opted to use both Lehtonen (four games) and Niemi (two) in the first round, the Blues and coach Ken Hitchcock threw themselves behind Elliott. He was their starter. He was their guy.

Video: CHI@STL, Gm7: Elliott goes to splits to deny Kane

He justified that belief.

"If you're going to win against a really good team, he's going to have to be your best player," Hitchcock said. "Early in the series he was our best player, he was a great player [Monday], made great saves tonight. 

"I think one of the reasons we don't like talking about the goaltenders is they have been and are the story of our team. They're the reason, quite frankly, we got 107 points, because they held the fort when it was pretty dicey. Obviously, [Elliott] is the reason we won this series. He was outstanding."

Elliott finished the series having given up 18 goals in seven games, good for a 2.40 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. But that is a little deceiving, in that he gave up five of those in one game [Game 6]. He was there when they needed him, when the Blackhawks pushed. He robbed Patrick Kane - usually not one to be robbed - on multiple occasions in Game 7, preserving a lead and a win that allowed the Blues to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012. 

But it will only get harder from here. The Stars boasted the best offense in the game in the regular season, scoring 3.23 goals per game. The Blackhawks were sixth at 2.85. Even without Tyler Seguin, whose return date still is unknown, Dallas is dangerous. So that will mean even more pressure on Elliott, even more stress. 

Video: CHI@STL, Gm5: Elliott stymies Weise in OT

His teammates and coaches believe in him. They believe he can do it. They've seen him do it before, most recently in helping to knock Chicago out of the postseason. 

"Amazing, as always," Troy Brouwer said. "A couple of huge saves, a little help from two posts at the very end. He's done a phenomenal job fighting through traffic, fighting when we give up opportunities and having huge saves for us. Giving us opportunities to win night in and night out.

"We've leaned on him a lot in this series and throughout the season. And we're going to need to lean on him more."

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