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NBC commentators split on Halak-Elliott debate

by Dan Rosen /

The question was put to the panel of commentators from the NBC Sports Group.

If you were Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, would you pick Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott to start Game 1 against San Jose on Thursday?


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Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire insisted they'd go with Halak, the goalie who led Montreal to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago. Eddie Olczyk and Keith Jones picked Elliott, whose postseason goals-against average (4.14) is a higher number than the amount of postseason games he's played in (four).

"Brian Elliott," Olczyk said without hesitation and despite of Elliott's lack of playoff experience. "He's coming off a nice little streak there where he had gone into 200-plus minutes of shutout hockey. It's a great problem for Hitch to have, but to me I like the way he played the last 10 games of the season. It's a no-brainer."

If it's a no-brainer to Hitchcock, he's not letting anyone know. He recently said he won't make his decision public until Thursday morning. He doesn't even want to field questions on the topic.

"I wish I knew," Halak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Emrick and McGuire insist they do.

"I would go with Halak just because of the number of minutes Elliott hasn't had in the playoffs," Emrick said. "You can always come back with Elliott (if you lose Game 1), but I like the idea of someone who has been there before."

In fairness, Elliott had the better season even if he got eight fewer starts than Halak. He was tops in the League with a 1.56 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. His nine shutouts were one fewer than Jonathan Quick's League-leading 10. He won 23 of his 38 starts.

Halak won 26 of his 46 starts. He had a 1.97 GAA and .926 save percentage. He had six shutouts.

But Halak, whose numbers would still be considered Vezina worthy, played in 18 playoff games with the Canadiens in 2010 and was the main reason why they beat both Washington and Pittsburgh in seven before frittering out in a five-game series loss to Philadelphia.

"I want playoff pedigree and a guy that took a team to the conference finals," McGuire said. "Halak, if he's not there, Montreal is a shell of itself in 2010. Brian Elliott has no playoff pedigree."

Jones likes Nashville-Detroit: While the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series may resonate more with Jones, who played for the Flyers and is now a part-time color commentator for their games on CSN Philadelphia, says he's more interested in the 4-5 series in the Western Conference between the Predators and Red Wings.

Jones started by listing all the positives for the Predators, including home-ice advantage. He talked about the Predators extra playoff experience after winning a round last season, and the fact that they're a better team this season. He gave credit to Pekka Rinne for owning the net, to Shea Weber and Ryan Suter for dominating on the back end. He mentioned adding a game-breaking talent such as Alexander Radulov to the mix late in the season.

But, and you knew this was coming, "they're starting (the playoffs) with the Red Wings, a team that is healthy now.

"It's an extremely intriguing series that is going to be loaded with talent and one that a lot of eyes are going to be directed toward," Jones added. "It's the one I'm looking forward to the most."

'Doc' likes the Devils: After spending years calling Devils games, Emrick was off the MSG airwaves this season as he focused solely on his work for the NBC Sports Group. That doesn't mean he lost touch with New Jersey.

When given the opportunity to offer opening remarks on the conference call Monday, Emrick talked extensively and exclusively about the series between the Devils and Panthers. He picked the Devils in six, but hinted it won't be an easy six.

"I think New Jersey-Florida will be very interesting," he started. "The last time Florida got in playoffs was the spring of 2000. They were swept by New Jersey then. This stacks up as a really interesting series because not only do you have Peter DeBoer returning to Florida, but you have a Florida team that has shown great energy this year and has shown really strong streaks of success. It's a tough one to call, that's for sure. Based on prior experience and the fact they have more scoring, I would go with New Jersey in six games."

Are the Rangers a contender?: This question drew some interesting responses from the panel. The general consensus is that yes, the top-seeded Rangers are a contender to come out of the Eastern Conference, but they're not without their flaws.



"The only question I have with the Rangers is do they have enough offensive finish," Olczyk said. "We all know playoffs are going to be low scoring for the most part, but do they have enough guys to finish consistently. That would be the only blemish I have with the Rangers."

Jones said the Rangers are in a good position because they're not opening the playoffs against a rival. If they get past Ottawa, they might see one in the second round if the Devils and Bruins both win their series.

"The Rangers have proven it all season long that they have enough scoring to win a lot of games and they have a heck of a coach in John Tortorella, who has done a heck of a job of putting his team in position to succeed," Jones said. "I put the Rangers at the top of the list (of contenders). With Ryan Callahan leading your team, you're in a good position to come out of the Eastern Conference."

McGuire said the biggest key for the Rangers early in the playoffs is figuring out how to neutralize Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson.

"He has to be shut down, be eliminated," he said. "You have to give him Brian Leetch treatment. You have to give him Ray Bourque treatment. That means you have to give him respect, but you've got to pulverize him. If you don't, Ottawa can get its speed going and it becomes dangerous for the Rangers."

All things Pennsylvania: Jones played in the Battle of Pennsylvania. Olczyk played and coached in it. McGuire was an assistant coach in it in the early 1990s.

They insist the view of the rivalry from the outside is similar to how it feels when you're on the inside of it.

"It's a fevered pitch. It's your arch rival. It has everything that comes along with what has taken place in the past," Olczyk said. "Every period is emotional, and the team that can play with that controlled emotion, especially in a seven-game series, will have the upper hand. What you see, it's even way more on the inside, if that makes any sense."

Jones, though, said there is great respect between both organizations.

"There is a lot to say about the respect both teams have for each other," Jones said. "It may not come across on the ice at all times, but there's no question that both teams look at each other and in some cases are mirror images of each other."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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