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Elliott justifies decision to start him in Game 1

Goaltender makes 35 saves in Blues' 1-0 overtime victory

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS - The battle has raged this season: Between Brian Elliott and Jake Allen. Between Brian Elliott and injuries. Between Brian Elliott and expectations.

He had gotten the nod over Allen for Game 1 of the St. Louis Blues' Western Conference series against the Chicago Blackhawks, but it had come with a caveat. As Blues coach Ken Hitchcock had said, "Probably sometime along the line you're going to need both guys, and we feel good about that."

They surely felt good about Elliott, and about the choice to start Elliott, once it was all over Wednesday, after he had made 35 saves in a 1-0 overtime win at Scottrade Center.

Good enough, in fact, for David Backes to offer his First Star to Elliott, in self-deprecating fashion. Backes, after all, scored the game-winning goal when he banked the puck off the skate blade of Chicago defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and into the net at 9:04 of overtime.

"Ells was phenomenal," Backes said. "He has been all year, whenever he's been called upon. Tonight was no different. Huge saves when we needed it, stoppages when we were under duress. He even had a couple cheeky puck plays where he's moving it up and we're able to exit a lot easier.

"I got the No. 1 star, somehow. I don't know who's picking that, maybe my mom. But it should have been Ells tonight."

Elliott demurred.

Video: Backes, Brouwer and Elliott after a Game 1 win

But the goaltender had proven his bona fides through the course of the season, and especially during a three-shutout stretch in March when he blanked the Vancouver Canucks, the San Jose Sharks and the Canucks again. He made 71 saves. He allowed zero goals. He looked ready.

That was solidified during the final games of the regular season, when Allen was out with an injury, when all signs pointed to Elliott being their guy in Game 1. He was that, and more.

Elliott's 35 saves included nine high-danger ones, according to war-on-ice.com, compared to two for Chicago's Corey Crawford. Elliott kept the Blackhawks scoreless through three consecutive penalties in the first period, with seven seconds between Jay Bouwmeester's tripping infraction and Alexander Steen's hooking penalty, the latter of which overlapped with a Carl Gunnarsson hooking call that gave Chicago a 5-on-3 advantage for 36 seconds.

Elliott didn't break then, nor did he on Jonathan Toews' breakaway at 6:58 of the second period, off a feed from Marian Hossa. "Just tried to stand my ground," he said.

He proved that the decision to go with him, at least in Game 1, was the right one.

Video: CHI@STL, Gm1: Elliott reaches to cover puck in OT

Elliott and Allen were one of two goaltending duos to each win 20 game during the regular season (Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi of the Dallas Stars also did it). They have been the story of the season for the Blues, as Hitchcock reiterated Wednesday.

But the injury to Allen at the end of the season, and the way that Elliott finished the playoff push (11-1-0, 2.06 GAA, .926 save percentage) earned him the Game 1 start.

"Like he said this morning, he's used to it," Hitchcock said of the pressure. "He's used to being the guy that has to go. I think he's comfortable in that element now, which, to me, is a big change for Brian. Because he's comfortable in this setting now: You see his athleticism come out now. You see his confidence come out now. Because he's been put into this with the type of season we've had with these two guys getting hurt."

Though, still, Allen looms.

Video: Ken Hitchcock after a 1-0 win in Game 1

So this, then, was a statement of sorts, a way of keeping his team in the game, the eyes on him, the job his. But maybe he didn't need to make one. Maybe it was there all along, in his 23-8-0 regular season, in his 2.07 goals against average, in his .930 save percentage.

"He's laser-focused," Backes said. "He's been great for us all year. Every time he's called upon, he does a phenomenal job. He's a pro when he's not starting; he doesn't let a puck go by him in practice, ever. That competitive attitude, I think's kept him laser-sharp. He's finally getting an opportunity to run with it, and tonight he was not letting go of it."

When Elliott was asked a question about his shutout, though, he stood up for himself, for a memory that might not have been top of mind for everyone else. It was, he was told, his first shutout in 19 career playoff games. Well, he said, "technically." He did have that one, on April 12, 2012, when he came on in relief of Jaroslav Halak against the Sharks and made 17 saves to complete a combined shutout.

The competitiveness, even after the final buzzer, remained. And Elliott once again got the final word.

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