Elliott's come a long way in shootouts

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

The most improved part of Brian Elliott's game in the last season and a half is his "mental toughness," according to Cory Clouston, his coach in the AHL and now the NHL.

Last night was a prime example.

Elliott gave up a second-period goal to Zdeno Chara on a long slap shot he should have stopped, but sucked it up and battled the Bruins down to the wire and beyond.

Aside from the power-play equalizer late in the third, which saw "shutdown" defencemen Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov desert the front of the net, Elliott was superb. He had Phil Kessel's number all night. He stopped three Dennis Wideman shots in overtime. And he denied Blake Wheeler, Kessel, Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard in the shootout before P.J. Axelsson finally snuck one by him for the win.

In his first NHL shootout, Elliott was beaten cleanly on dekes to the blocker side by Montreal's Alex Kovalev and Maxim Lapierre. After that Jan. 17 game, Elliott cursed his own lack of patience. Last night, he refused to budge as all four shooters before Axelsson tried to deke him.

"You have to approach it as a challenge, rather than being afraid," Elliott said of his shootout mindset. "You have to make them miss. It's a lot more nerve-racking for the guys coming down trying to figure out what to do than it is for you trying to stop it."

Elliott, who stopped 27 shots, wanted to see the Chara goal on film to find out what went wrong. He probably won't like what he sees. Even if he was slightly screened, it was by a player out by the shooter. He should have made the save.

But playing in just his 10th NHL game, and against the best team in the league, he would not wilt.

"He's just a young guy who is getting a lot of confidence," said Clouston. "From seeing him last year, his mental toughness has come so far ... He's going to be a very good goaltender for years to come."

STARTS AND STOPS

Clouston went to Brendan Bell as his third choice in the shootout -- after Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson but before Antoine Vermette and Dany Heatley --because of the defenceman's history. Bell has scored on 13-of-15 shootouts in the AHL, for and against Clouston. "I've been waiting for it for awhile," Bell said of his first shootout attempt in the NHL. "Unfortunately, it was against that guy. You never really know what he's going to do." The imaginative Tim Thomas stopped Bell's "move," a deke to the backhand followed by a jam shot between the skates. "That's the first time it hasn't worked for me, before (last night)" said Bell, who was 11-for-11 with the move ... On a cold February night with their team wallowing, it looked like about 4,000 Ottawa hockey fans opted for their couch and Grey's Anatomy over a live look at a team that could be crowned Stanley Cup champion in four months.

BETWEEN PERIODS

A day after comments by NHLPA director Paul Kelly suggesting the league consider making it mandatory to keep helmets on during fights, Chris Neil was asked his views. The Senators' penalty minutes king agreed. "I think my whole career, I've only taken my helmet off maybe once or twice," Neil said, chuckling. "(Usually) I'm trying to keep it on. If you're in a fight and you feel it coming off, you try to get your other hand free and put it back on." Asked his secret, Neil delivered a solid shot of self-deprecating humour. "When you've got a cinder block for a head and a cinder block for a helmet, it fits pretty good." ... You could feel Jarkko Ruutu's pain when he took a Chara slap shot off the ankle moments before the Bruins' equalizer. But the Finn was not finished. After barely being able to drag himself to the bench, Ruutu was out to kill the rest of the double minor ... It's come to this: A Senators fan captured on the big-screen video drinking a beer. Through a straw. Always trouble.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM....

Question: If everyone waved to Filip Kuba, would he return the gesture with a waive -- of his no-trade clause? It's worth a try ... Double-checked with the NHL Guide and Record Book. Contrary to the rumours, the full name of Boston's No. 21 is not Andrew "Inter" Ference .... Winners of a second-intermission giveaway were the fans in the stands who wound up with huge beach balls dropped from the ceiling. Think Marty Gerber may have fished a few of them out ... Clouston could pass as the identical twin of Robert Patrick, the actor who played the cop in Terminator 2 ... Overheard visiting beat writers talking about Axelsson's shootout winner being the Bruins' second "walk off" this season. You can take the boy out of Boston, but you can't take baseball out of the boy.

THE BOTTOM LINES

It's moments after yesterday's morning skate and Neil is surrounded by reporters who want to know his feeling about his contract talks, and the possibility of being traded before the deadline. "If I can be here, great. If it's not meant to be, move on. For the most part, my heart is in it here and this is where I want to be," said Neil, who's "flattered" that the rumour mill has other teams interested in him. On the other side of the room was Dean McAmmond, who like Neil is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. McAmmond, who has played 909 NHL games, was a healthy scratch. "I'm pissed," said McAmmond. "I never really wanted to be traded, but if they don't see me as being a part of the future, or a part of making these playoffs, it only makes sense to see if they can get something for me."


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