The playoffs are the time of year when heroes are born. And not to apply any undue pressure, step right up young Brian Elliott.
Going into the Ottawa Senators’ first round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, we have a pretty good idea what to expect from most of the personnel on both teams. Even though Sidney Crosby had no goals against the Senators this season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a threat to bury a goal on almost every shift. We know the Penguins are strong down the middle. We know Daniel Alfredsson will be his usual, consistent self and we know Anton Volchenkov will sacrifice his body every time he steps on the ice.
That makes Elliott the wildcard in this series. His emergence as the Senators’ go-to goaltender didn’t materialize until mid-January. By that time, the Senators had already played the Penguins three times and were torched for six goals and eight goals in separate outings by Pascal Leclaire.
After mopping up in the 8-2 loss to the Penguins Dec. 23, Elliott stopped 30 of 31 shots in a 4-1 win over the Penguins Jan. 28 in their last meeting of the season. By that time, the Senators, powered by Elliott, were in the throes of what would become an 11-game winning streak. After the Pittsburgh game, Elliott had won six in a row and given up only six goals in those games.
“They’ve gotten some good goaltending lately,” Crosby observed after the game.
In order for the Senators to even have a chance of winning this series, they’re going to need even more than that from Elliott. They’re going to require superhuman goaltending, the kind they were getting during the winning streak and not the kind they were getting from him toward the end of the season.
The two blowouts by the Penguins aside, the Senators actually played the Penguins quite evenly this season, winning two games by 4-1 scores and were outscored only 15-13 by one of the most explosive teams in the NHL.
But this is the playoffs and the Penguins are a battle-hardened group that in the past two years has seen every possible playoff situation play out. Elliott, on the other hand, is entering an entirely new world and he’s going to have to conquer it right away if the Senators want to play beyond the first round.
This article also appeared in the Ottawa Metro newspaper.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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