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As Blues' schedule picks up, Elliott earning more and more opportunities to start

With 34 saves, Elliott makes most of opportunity in net -- an opportunity likely to come again soon

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock made it clear on Saturday morning.

The Blues coach wasn't giving backup goalie Brian Elliott the start in the net because of the hectic schedule. Elliott, the coach explained after the team's morning skate, deserved this opportunity.

"We need to reward good play," Hitchcock said. "Heck, he's played great. He's played great, every game. We need to reward good play and he's deserved probably to play more, just based on his play. So this is an opportunity with us playing every second night for four more games here, an opportunity for him to hopefully get a couple starts."

Elliott reward his coach's decision with a brilliant performance against the visiting Dallas Stars on Saturday night at Scottrade Center. He allowed a first-period goal but then shut out the Stars the rest of the way, making a season-high 34 saves on the night in the Blues' 6-1 win.

"You always want to get in there and fight for the guys and be part of it," Elliot said afterward. "I think that's what our strength is as a tandem. We can push each other. I think Jaro's playing well and I want to play well so we can just keep moving this train forward."

There's no goalie controversy here. Get that out of your head now.

This isn't "D3: The Mighty Ducks." Greg Goldberg and Julie "the Cat" Gaffney are getting along just fine, thank you.

The way Hitchcock looks at it, Elliott and No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak will both see plenty of action in net going forward. The Blues, who improved to 16-3-3 with a Western Conference Central Division-high 35 points, will play often enough for both guys to get opportunities.

"He's just a good goalie," Hitchcock said of Elliott. "I see it at practice. I see it all the time. He's just a good goalie. We're lucky. We've got two good goalies who are really on top of their game right now and we're going to need them both. Both are going to play quite a bit here in the next month because we're playing every second night darn near. It's like pick your poison. Brian is going to get probably either Colorado or San Jose and Jaro's got Minnesota -- all good teams. You just pick your poison and away you go."

Elliott was the No. 1 star Saturday night, an evening at Scottrade that featured so much scoring that Towel Guy might need Tommy John surgery.

The 28 year old, who is in his third season with the Blues, improved to 4-0-1 by stopping 97.1 percent of the shots he faced.

"Els was absolutely tremendous tonight," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "He made a lot of big first saves. I thought we did a pretty good job clearing away the second ones, but he came up with some pretty big saves early on. It would have been nice to get him the shutout but it's a very deserving win for him."
 
Elliott saved 11 of 12 shots in the first period, then all 10 shots he faced in the second period and each of the 13 shots he saw in the third. The Stars kept peppering him with pucks and he was up to the task. 

"He was fabulous," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "He made big saves at crucial times. He made the saves that kept them in the game."

Elliott has played in seven games this season, with five starts, and he is still undefeated. He shut out the Panthers on the road Nov. 1. He's allowed just 11 goals and his save percentage went from .921 to .932 following his performance Saturday night.

So far this season, Elliott has handled every challenge he's faced -- including staying sharp when he's not the guy in between the pipes. That's not always the easiest thing for a goaltender but he's been around long enough to now know how to handle that, too.

"It's just finding that mindset game in and game out," Elliott said. "Sometimes when you don't get a lot of opportunities it's hard to get back in that peak performance state. I think it just comes with experience and a lot of patience out there and just trust in your game and you just try to play your game and everything else will take care of itself." 
  
That worked out just fine Saturday night.
 
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.