In the 2016 Western Conference Finals: The Great Unchokening, I (and Vegas) give the slight nod to the Blues. They’ve beaten better teams to get here, and they’re constructed more defensively-minded, the sort of team that succeeds in tight playoff games. That’s the blueliners, for sure, but more than anything it’s the goalie edge. And the edge in Game 1, the reason St. Louis has the early series lead, was Brian Elliott.
“When your goalie is your best player,” David Backes said, “it gives you a great chance of winning and that was the case tonight. It’s been that way for the first two rounds and nothing has changed here in Game 1 of the third round.”
Elliott made 31 saves, 16 of them in a hectic second period, to help the Blues hold on for the 2-1 win. Seven of those saves came against his former college roommate Joe Pavelski, including stuffing a pair of great looks from about 15 feet away:
“He’s obviously a good player, a guy that leads their team” Elliott said of Pavelski. “It’s really nothing more than just trying to stop every puck. It’s not who’s shooting it that really matters. It’s trying to get in the way.”
I don’t think Elliott is a great goalie, necessarily, but his numbers were great this year and he’s been very good in the postseason, minus two notable bed-shittings. Those remain a danger, but there’s something to be said for getting either top-notch goaltending or immediately terrible goaltending, with nothing in between.
Martin Jones is fine, I guess, and the Sharks’ offense is certainly able to make up the difference, so this isn’t an automatic ticket to the Finals. But with Ben Bishop’s injury and Matt Murray’s lack of a track record, Elliott’s just as capable as any netminder left of wresting a few wins from losable games and lugging his team to a title. He and the Blues are now better than halfway there.