Just in the past few games, Calgary Flames’ goaltender Brian Elliott has been hearing a chant that’s familiar to him from the Olympic Saddledome faithful. “Mooooo-se” they now cheer, whenever Elliott makes a pivotal save, which has happened a lot of late.
Elliott’s play in goal is one of the main reasons the Flames are within one victory of clinching an NHL playoff spot for the second time in three years, heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings. Coming off a 24-save performance in Monday’s win over the Colorado Avalanche, Elliott is now 14-1-1 in his past 16 decisions, and earlier in March tied Mike Vernon’s club record for consecutive victories by a goaltender (11).
Elliott has had a cartoon moose stencilled on the back of his helmet since his college days, honouring a close friend who’d passed away and was adept at moose calling.
In his time with the St. Louis Blues, fans would serenade Elliott’s best moments with their own version of the moose call. Last Saturday, in the clash between Elliott’s former team and his current team, spectators in attendance at the Scottrade Center waved stuffed moose, some dressed in Calgary regalia, others in Blues’ colours.
Elliott’s teammates have taken notice, with team captain Mark Giordano noting Tuesday: “I feel like all the great goalies have had that happen at one point in their careers in their home building. Roberto Luongo sticks out – people chanting their nicknames when they make those big saves, which is pretty cool.”
When the Flames’ brain trust put the master plan together for the NHL’s 2016-17 season, they imagined Elliott would carry the load in goal; Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau would do the heavy lifting offensively; and the trio of Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton would stabilize the defensive end.
The beauty of master plans in a long, grinding 82-game schedule is they don’t necessarily have to succeed instantly.
In a year which started with most of their good players not playing all that well, the Flames are – now, finally, with six games to go in the regular season – starting to click most everywhere.
Monahan, for example, is on fire – four more points in the win against Colorado. Gaudreau has points in five consecutive games and nine in all during that stretch.
And Elliott’s play, according to Giordano, has been the catalyst.
“You just want to get out of the way and let him see as many shots as possible,” Giordano said. “He’s really feeling it. The only ones that have seemed to have gone in are screen shots and tips. For sure, it goes a long way for the confidence of the group when you get those big timely saves. Not only are they huge to keep you in games and keep the score what it is, but you gain momentum off them.
“The No. 1 reason we’ve been on this run is goaltending. I can’t say enough good things about the way he’s been playing.”
The Flames’ recent surge has turned the Pacific Division playoff race into an ultratight fight to the finish. Three points separated the top four teams heading into Tuesday night’s action. It wasn’t so long ago – the morning of March 15 to be exact – when the Sharks held a nine-point lead over Calgary and Anaheim in the divisional standings.
But then the Sharks imploded – weirdly, unexpectedly – and now Anaheim’s on top and Edmonton has caught them as well. Calgary finishes with six games – three home, three away – against the NHL’s California teams. How they fare there will ultimately determine who they meet in the opening round.
According to Elliott, former Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock had a term that he invented – “stick-with-it-ness” – that ultimately separated the good teams from the great teams.
In a topsy-turvy season such as this one, in which Calgary won just five of its first 16 games, it has been the Flames’ ability to play with consistency, night in and night out, over the past two months that has made the team so dangerous an opponent.
“It’s the time of year where we’ve won a number of games and haven’t really moved up that much in the standings,” Elliott said. “It’s hard to catch teams – and you have to keep up or you’re left behind. The guys have been playing so well that if you stop the ones you should and maybe a couple that you shouldn’t, you come away with wins.”
As for the welcoming sound of those moose calls, Elliott noted: “It started last year or the year before in St. Louis and it’s kind of cool they’ve taken it over a little.
“Put it this way: I’m glad it’s ‘Moose’ – and not boos.”Report Typo/Error