By Dan O'Neill in Los Angeles
In another season, the regular season, Brian Elliott was a pillar of strength for the St. Louis Blues. He erased mistakes, lifted spirits and played a major role as his mates contended for the Presidents' Trophy as the top team in the NHL.
He led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.940). He set a franchise record for shutouts (nine). He combined with Jaroslav Halak to become the first tandem in league history to have 20 or more wins in a single season for one team. He was the Blues' representative to the NHL All-Star Game.
That not only feels like another season right now, it feels like another lifetime. Elliott's magical season is fast coming to a much less spectacular conclusion in the Western Conference semifinals. The Blues lost to the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 at Staples Center on Thursday and are down 0-3 in the series, which could come to an end as quickly as Sunday afternoon.
For the second game in succession, the Blues featured a leaky defence, a forecheck that could not catch the Kings, a backcheck that could not hold them down.
And for the second game in succession, Elliott was part of the problem, not the solution.
"It's not where we want to be right now," a sombre Elliott said. "I think we can say, to a man, that we need to play better.
"It starts with me between the pipes and works itself out. It's not where we want to be.
"But we're not going anywhere. We're fighting and we want to take it back to St. Louis."
Elliott carried his regular-season momentum into the opening-round series with the San Jose Sharks. He entered in the second game after Halak was injured in a collision. Elliott finished off a 3-0 shutout to even that series at 1-1. The 26-year old then won both games in San Jose, spiced by several clutch saves.
The Blues put the the series away in five and Elliott was a standout, allowing six goals in his four games of work.
Along with the rest of the Blues, he has not been the same player against the swarming Kings. After yielding two goals on 28 shots in Game 1, Elliott has been victimized for nine on 43 shots over the last two games.
The goals have not always been his fault, per se. All too often the Kings have been open to fire at will, loose to approach the net unimpeded. But Elliott has not been an impenetrable shield. After allowing five goals on 21 shots in Game 2, he was both vulnerable and untimely in allowing four on 22 shots in Game 3.
"Els is always bailing us out," Blues forward Matt D'Agostini said. "I don't know if it was a tough night for him.
"Halfway through the game, they were beating us in shots by a pretty good margin. We weren't helping him out as much as we could have. We've got to do better for him."
Perhaps that works both ways. The Kings got two particularly damaging goals against Elliott, the first of which came just 40 seconds after Blues forward
Chris Stewart tied the score 1-1 early in the second. St. Louis got trapped up ice as Kings forward Dwight King broke away.
A five-goal scorer during the season, King picked the corner on Elliott, deflating the Blues comeback balloon and giving LA back a 2-1 lead. Moments later, with the Kings on a power play, Mike Richards repeated a ploy he used to score an opening-round goal against the Vancouver Canucks. From a severe angle, he shot instead of passing, catching Elliott cheating off the post and making it 3-1.
Now desperate for their playoff lives, the Blues rallied in the opening minutes of the third. Stewart scored his second goal of the game a little more than four minutes in and the deficit was trimmed to one with more than 15 minutes still to play. The Blues had a pulse, but for less than four minutes.
For the third time in the lopsided series -- and the second time in the game -- the Kings responded to a Blues goal by quickly scoring their own. With
teammates in front, Drew Doughty blasted a shot from the point. Elliott closed his pads on the shot, but the puck trickled through for another spirit-sinking score.
The Kings had their 4-2 win wrapped up and the series in a death grip. Elliott preferred not to look back on the goals he allowed. He's trying to look forward.
"I'm not really going to talk about what's frustrating and what's not," Elliott said afterward. "Sometimes those hit you and stay out.
"Sometimes they go through you. That one snuck through.
"You can't really look at it too much. You've got to take the experience and look forward. We'll practice and get better."
If the Blues and Elliott don't get better in a hurry, they'll get the rest of the summer off.
Dan O'Neill reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @wwdod
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