Check out the NHL game notes for tonight's Game 1 of the Senators-Penguins series.
|Senators goaltender Brian Elliott makes his NHL playoff debut tonight against the Stanley Cup champion Penguins in Pittsburgh (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
In Brian Elliott, the Ottawa Senators most assuredly place their trust.
When the Senators hit the ice at Mellon Arena tonight for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200), they'll send out a lineup dotted with playoff rookies. None will be more scrutinized than the guy between the pipes.
But to a man, the Senators exude complete confidence in Elliott, the second-year stopper who had no small hand in getting Ottawa back to the post-season after a one-year absence.
"He's been protecting us all year," centre Jason Spezza
said when asked about whether the Senators need to do anything special in front of Elliott in his first National Hockey League playoff start tonight. "He’s been great. He’s a real confident guy and he’s very focused.
"(Elliott's) confidence has grown and he’s the least of our worries. He’s been real good and he’s brought us a lot of confidence."
Not that Elliott is completely lacking in being in the middle of a pressure cooker, either. The Wisconsin Badgers rode his strong play to an NCAA Frozen Four national title in 2006, when he was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in U.S. college hockey.
"To win a national championship, it (takes) four wins," said Elliott, the second-last player chosen (ninth round, 291st overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. "To win a playoff series, it's four wins. You just have to play your game, not get too uptight and just go out there and just play. That's what I took away from my experience in college."
Added Senators head coach Cory Clouston: "Brian has shown in the past he’s been very successful in playoffs, winning an NCAA championship and having a lot of success there."
As Clouston also pointed out, NHL history is filled with examples of playoff rookie goaltenders who thrived under the microscope in the biggest spotlight of all. Four years ago, the Carolina Hurricanes rode the netminding of Cam Ward all the way to the Stanley Cup, with the rookie also named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP.
"In that position, especially, it’s a little bit of an overrated thing," said Senators centre Matt Cullen, who witnessed Ward's efforts first-hand as a member of that Hurricanes team. "Goalies are goalies. They’re a different breed, right? If a goalie’s playing well, he’s playing well. (Elliott) is a hard-working guy and he’s really dedicated. I’m not worried about him.
"We have a lot of confidence in (Elliott) and nothing but faith in him and expect nothing but the best from him. Honestly, within the group, it’s not a concern of ours. We’re just worried about going out and playing our best game and trusting that he’ll be at his best."
And he'll hardly be alone on an island, if all goes according to plan.
"We expect Brian to play well and we’re going to give him a lot of support and stay with our structured team game," Clouston said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today at Mellon Arena.
"In that position, especially, (experience) is a little bit of an overrated thing. Goalies are goalies. They’re a different breed, right? If a goalie’s playing well, he’s playing well. (Elliott) is a hard-working guy and he’s really dedicated. I’m not worried about him. We have a lot of confidence in Els and nothing but faith in him and expect nothing but the best from him. Honestly, within the group, it’s not a concern of ours. We’re just worried about going out and playing our best game and trusting that he’ll be at his best." - Matt Cullen
It'll need to be all hands on deck against the Penguins and 51-goal scorer Sidney Crosby, especially in the early going. The Igloo figures to be rocking right from the opening whistle.
"We’ve got to be wary of the first 10 minutes here," said Spezza. "We’ve got to get off to a good start and try to limit their chances. The crowd’s going to be good, they’re going to be excited and everybody knows how the first little bit of playoff games are. Everybody’s just flying around.
"We’ve really got to try to play within the system and you’ve got to control your emotions early on. It’s definitely something we’re going to talk about going into the game."
Added centre Mike Fisher: "They’re going to be fired up in this barn and they’re going to be ready for us. We’ve just got to try to weather the storm early and, hopefully, we can get one early and go from there."
Handling Crosby, who shared the NHL's goal-scoring lead with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, figures to be tougher than ever for a team that has contained him well in the past.
"Crosby’s had a great year, scoring a lot of goals this year, and we’re going to have to be much better than we have in the past to shut him down," said Fisher. "It’s never an easy task and we know he’s going to elevate his game in the playoffs, but it takes a five-man unit to do the job and (we need to) help each other out."Around the boards
The Senators' lines during the pre-game skate: Peter Regin
-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek
-Mike Fisher-Matt Cullen, Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil and Nick Foligno
-Zack Smith-Jesse Winchester ... The defence pairings: Chris Phillips
-Anton Volchenkov, Matt Carkner
-Erik Karlsson and Andy Sutton-Chris Campoli ... Forwards Shean Donovan and Ryan Shannon, along with blueliner Brian Lee, are tonight's healthy scratches ... Going back to the 2007-08 season, the Penguins are 12-0-0 in the first two games played at Mellon Arena in a playoff series ... Game 2 is Friday night in Pittsburgh (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200), with the series shifting back to Scotiabank Place for Game 3 on Sunday (6:30 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) and Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) ... Fewer than 750 tickets remain for Sunday's game in Ottawa.