ST. LOUIS -- Six weeks ago Brian Elliott couldn’t even dress as a backup, let alone give the St. Louis Blues any indication he would soon hold his own -- and then some -- with last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
And to be fair, he’s otherwise been outstanding, making yet again a series of saves Thursday night that were highlight-reel material.
But it’s the playoffs, and close doesn’t cut it.
Elliott is the one who is 2-0 in this series, stopping 56 of 58 shots so far and giving the Blues the kind of goaltending he couldn’t a year ago against these same Kings.
“Els stood on his head again tonight and gave us a chance,” teammate Alexander Steen said.
“The first half of the game we really needed him, we had the scoring chances at 13-4 (for the Kings) at one point,” Blues goalie coach Corey Hirsch told ESPN.com. “He made some big saves.”
Hirsch deserves some credit for what is transpiring here in front of our eyes, working with Elliott to bring him back from the wilderness.
It was just a short time ago in late March that Elliott accepted a short conditioning assignment to the AHL to reset himself, having fallen to No. 3 on the Blues’ goalie depth chart.
He’s come back a new man. It’s one of the most unlikely stories of the NHL season.
“When things went bad, he never quit,” Hirsch said. “He kept going on the ice, he kept asking to go out early, he kept just sticking with it. It’s a cliché, but he worked really hard. He’s earned this, he earned it the hard way.”
Technically speaking, Hirsch didn’t want to divulge too many secrets, but it’s clear adjustments were made.
“We’ve changed his game a little bit, we’ve given him a few more tactics to be able to read the play a little better,” said Hirsch. “His post work is a little better.”
Elliott gave Blues fans a scare in the third period when his right leg appeared to buckle after Kings captain Dustin Brown crashed into the net. After staying down on the ice for a while, he eventually stayed in the game. Quick had also given his team a scare in warm-ups when he appeared to labor after taking a shot in the wrong spot. But he, too, gutted it out and said after the game he was fine.
It’s hard to hang an 0-2 series deficit on Quick. Gosh, his first-period save on Jaden Schwartz was just another jaw-dropper on a night when he was superb again -- until the end.
The only thing people will remember from this night was that Jackman beat him 51 seconds from the end of the third period with a wrist shot that simply can’t go in.
“I got to stop that,” a visibly angry Quick said afterward. “That’s my fault. Two games in a row. So, I got to be better.”
Well, so does your team, Jonathan.
The Kings have scored just two goals in this series, one with the extra attacker on the ice late in Game 1, and a 5-on-3 tally in the first period Thursday. That’s not much to hang your hat on as defending Cup champs.
The Kings did play a decent game in the first half, the pushback that we all expected. But it petered out as the Blues came back strong in the third period and scored twice to win it, gaining territorial advantage once again with a physical forecheck.
“We played a really good 40 minutes,” said the captain, Brown. “We got to stay on the body in the third. We didn’t have everyone taking the body. That’s the key to our grind is being physical. We let up in the third on the physicality. And that’s what happens.”
The Cup champs were never down in a series last spring, let alone two games to none.
But as the adage goes, a series isn’t a series until games have been played in both barns.
Don’t count them out, yet.
“We know how tough it is in L.A.,” said the goal-scoring hero, Jackman. “We have to play even better than we did tonight. We know they’ll come out with desperate hockey and Game 3 is going to be physical. They’re going to come out hard and we’re going to have to bring our 'A' game.”
And how about Jackman, he of the zero previous playoff goals in his entire career? The hard-hitting, defensive defenseman jumped into the fray when he saw an opening and ripped one past Quick for the winner as a delirious Scottrade Center rocked.
“It’s nice to contribute," smiled Jackman. "When things are going your way you get a bounce, you get a puck that you don’t normally get, and you put it home. It’s definitely a good feeling.”
But for Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, it was also about the way his team responded on this night.
The Blues knew they’d get a pushback from the defending Cup champs in Game 2 and they got it, outplayed for most of the opening half of the game.
But then the Blues showed their evolution as a team, their maturity, by settling down and pushing back themselves. That happened when they re-established their forecheck in the second half of the game.
“Regardless of whether we would have won today, I was just happy with the way we played once we calmed down and played better positionally,” Hitchcock said. “We needed to play with more composure, and we did that.”
A year ago, the Kings found their mojo; they discovered how to win after two previous years in the playoffs before that, absorbing playoff lessons.
This year, you just get that feeling the Blues are discovering that path to playoff success.
“I think we learned a lot from previous years and previous experiences,” Steen said. “Right now we have a good vibe, a good attitude in the room."
This series has many more twists and turns, the Kings far from done. But the Blues have already proven one thing: They have gone to the next level in their playoff apprenticeship.