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Brian Elliott at forefront of Flames resurgence

Goalie's second half has Calgary on verge of playoff berth

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Brian Elliott's 11-game winning streak came to an end with a barrage of shots from the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.

The Calgary Flames goaltender did his best, making 36 saves, including 10 on Alex Ovechkin alone. But Ovechkin's 11th shot went in and Elliott and the Calgary Flames came out on the short end of a 4-2 loss to the Capitals at Verizon Center.

"I felt tonight was a really strong game for me too," Elliott said. "Sometimes you play your best and you don't come away with a win."

There haven't been many nights like this for Elliott and the Flames lately; they are 13-2-1 in their past 16 games and 17-4-1 in their past 22, including a 10-game winning streak from Feb. 15 through March 13.

But they could have used another win Tuesday. The Flames (41-28-4) remained in the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference with 86 points. They are one point behind the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks, who are tied for second place in the Pacific Division, and five behind the first-place San Jose Sharks.

Video: CGY@WSH: Elliott kicks out his pad to rob Ovechkin

"We know where we are in the standings," Flames captain Mark Giordano said. "We've put ourselves in a good spot, but we're not where we want to be. We've got to find some points."

The Flames move on to visit the Nashville Predators on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; FS-TN, SNF, NHL.TV) and the St. Louis Blues on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CITY, FS-MW, NHL.TV) to complete this three-game road trip, where Elliott will look to start a new streak.

He had to settle for tying Mike Vernon's Flames record of 11 consecutive wins from Jan. 17-Feb. 27, 1989. Before Tuesday, Elliott's prior defeat was a 2-1 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 18.

Still, Elliott said tying Vernon's record, "doesn't mean anything right now."

"We're focused on game by game," he said. "It's [not] about streaks. That's how we've played it."

It seems like ages, but two months ago the Flames were on the road to nowhere and Elliott was lost along with them. Following a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Jan. 24, the Flames boarded a train for what turned out to be a fateful trip to Ottawa for their next game.

After getting outscored 20-7 in losing their previous four games, the Flames were 24-24-3 and at rock bottom mentally. Or, as Gulutzan called it, "The pit."

Gulutzan ripped the Flames after the loss in Montreal, saying, "We were pathetic. It was a pathetic display." Then, he decided there would be no alcohol in their train car for the trip to Ottawa.

During what began as a silent train ride, Gulutzan had a change of heart.

"I gave the guys some beer," he said.

Video: LAK@CGY: Elliott slides to turn away Carter in front

After talking to some of Flames veterans, Gulutzan offered a deal. He'd allow beer in the players' car if they would use the rest of the train ride to talk things over.

"It sounds simplistic, but the guys got together," Gulutzan said. "We took the beer off the car in [Montreal] and then we put it back on and told the guys to take the headphones off and sit together and figure this thing out. Sometimes it's as easy as that."

That meeting on the train made the players realize they were in this together and had to find their way out of it together.

"I think just the camaraderie that we had on that train ride really showed a lot to the guys of how close a group that we are and the only way you win is with the guys and being together," right wing Troy Brouwer said.

The Flames finished off their road trip with a 3-2 overtime win against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 26 that began their surge up the standings.

"If you look at where our team was, we were in the pit," Gulutzan said. "We were trying to figure out who we were, what we needed to do to win and we came out of there. But when we came out of there, we kind of slingshotted out of there. We all know our roles and responsibilities and what we need to do to win, so that adversity did help us grow as a group."

Elliott, who turns 32 on April 9, had to deal with his own adversity. Acquired from the St. Louis Blues in a trade completed during the 2016 NHL Draft, Elliott was supposed to be the answer to the Flames' goaltending woes, but went 3-9-1 with a 3.31 goals-against average and a .885 save percentage in his first 13 starts.

It wasn't all Elliott's fault. The Flames had some trouble adjusting from the run-and-gun style they played under coach Bob Hartley the past four seasons to the puck-possession system Gulutzan installed to begin this season.

"We were subpar and we were adjusting," Gulutzan said. "We were a little bit in the pit trying to adjust to a new way of playing and it hurt everybody involved until we found our way out of it."

Elliott also had to adjust to living in a different city and being a father for the first time after his son, Owen, was born on Oct. 2. But when the Flames found their game, beginning with that overtime win in Ottawa, he found his too.

In his past 18 starts, Elliott is 15-2-1 with a 2.00 GAA, a .932 save percentage and two shutouts.

"He's the main reason why we're in the spot we're in today, I think," left wing Johnny Gaudreau said. "He's done an excellent job in the past month or so here. He's been great back there and we've got to keep playing well in front of him."

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