Brian Elliott is ready to make his dream come true.
As a kid growing up in the Toronto suburb of Newmarket, Elliott spent countless hours playing road hockey with friends outside his home. Nearly every time, he backstopped his team to victory.
The Senators goaltender has plenty of playoff experience. Just none of it in the NHL.
“Playing Game 7 in road hockey non-stop for the Stanley Cup final helps you out a little bit when you’re growing up,” Elliott said with a smile.
Elliott was a Maple Leafs fan; often they were the ones winning the road hockey title.
“(Being a Leafs fan) changed the day I got drafted,” said Elliott, the Senators’ unlikely hero heading into their first-round series vs. the Penguins.
Why should this experience be any different than road hockey? While Elliott has never stepped into the net for an NHL playoff game, he’s ready for the challenge of facing the defending Stanley Cup champion.
Cory Clouston won’t name his starter until after the morning skate in Pittsburgh ahead of Game 1, but Elliott will be the man for the Senators. He took over the starting role from Pascal Leclaire in January and hasn’t shown any signs of letting it go.
After a standout season for a player drafted 291st overall in 2003, the 24-year-old Elliott is well aware he’ll have to prove his worth all over again in the playoffs.
He knows there will be pressure. Already, the intensity has been ratcheted up in practice.
That’s what happens when you get to the playoffs.
“I don’t see how you can’t be excited about it,” said Elliott. “The guys say the real season starts now. Having the first practice of the post-season (on Monday) was a little more serious and I like it when it’s a little more competition and guys are bearing down on every shot.”
It won’t be easy stopping the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but Elliott is convinced the club is up to the challenge.
“I’m looking forward to it. All our guys — shot-blockers as well — it’s a challenge to shut those guys down,” said Elliott. “If you do (stop them) you give yourself a good chance.
“We’re confident going into it. We’ve had some success in Pittsburgh. If we just have that same attitude, we’re ready to rock.”
Elliott was one of the hottest goalies in the NHL since Jan. 1, finishing the season with a 29-18-4 record, 2.57 GAA and .909 save percentage.
He made the big saves at big times and propelled the club back into the playoffs.
“Every player responds differently,” said coach Cory Clouston. “If you go a few years back (to 2006), Cam Ward, basically going into the playoffs, he wasn’t even the No. 1 guy and then he stole that (job) and won a Stanley Cup (for the Hurricanes).
“Until you’re put in that situation, you never quite know, but we’re quite confident in him. He’s strong mentally, physically he’s a big strong guy and I don’t think he gets pushed around the crease.When he’s playing his game, he’s very good at angles.”
Elliott knows he can make a name for himself. While he won an NCAA title at Wisconsin in 2006, this is what it’s all about for a hockey player. Post-season NHL success means everything.
“To win a series, it’s four wins,” said Elliott. “You just have to play your game. You can’t get uptight. You just have to go out there and play. That’s what I took from my experience in college.”
Now, Elliott can turn his road hockey dream into on-ice reality.