Elliot-JS

JEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photo

Brian Elliott has undoubtedly seen better days.

A national championship last April, a full-page picture in Sports Illustrated of Elliott sprawling out in the crease to make a save in the title game, All-American accolades in 2006, one of three Hobey Baker finalists last season (before it was claimed by Denver's Matt Carl) and six preseason nods for WCHA Player of the Year last September, with no other player garnering more than a pair of votes.

But if Lady Luck was in Elliott's net a year ago, she has skated her way right out of the Kohl Center in his senior year. Despite stellar numbers (2.11 GAA, .923 save percentage in 33 games), the Newmarket, Ontario, native has compiled a substandard record of 14-16-2. A season-long offensive struggle to put the puck in the net, untimely goals against No. 20 Wisconsin and just plain old bad luck at times have all been contributors to Elliott's supposed lack of success.

As a result of that pesky little record, there seems to be nobody outside of Madison — really, outside of the Badgers' locker room — who knows just how phenomenal Elliott has been this season.

But that fits the Badgers just fine.

"I think it almost is an advantage because people maybe don't expect as much from us," forward Aaron Bendickson said. "Obviously the record doesn't show what I feel that he can do. I don't think the record affects really how he's playing. I feel that maybe it benefits him, to relieve the pressure maybe."

After Elliott triumphed over pressure by closing the door on No. 11 Denver under difficult circumstances twice — the Pioneers scored no goals in the final 24:16 of either contest last weekend — Wisconsin players were struggling to find just the right words to describe how much Elliott means to this team and where they might be without him.

"Superb, very superb," forward Ross Carlson said. "Back there, he's like a wall when he's on. Nothing's going to get by him; it's like a beach ball coming at him. It's just great to see that when he's on his game; we have him in the playoffs."

What's interesting about Elliott's next challenge — this Thursday against No. 16 Michigan Tech in the WCHA Final Five play-in game — is that the last time he saw the Huskies, he gave up two goals in the opening 1:41 of play and was yanked in favor of sophomore Shane Connelly. The Badgers and Huskies each scored twice after that, and Tech completed the home sweep with a 4-2 victory.

Elliott has played three times since. The Badgers have won each of those three games — by one goal apiece.

Talk about clutch goaltending.

"Brian was the MVP this weekend, he made some great saves," forward and UW captain Andrew Joudrey said. "I thought he really controlled the game well, and that enabled us to relax, even in the third. The way he played both nights, getting down playing the puck, taking whistles when he can; … he really played well."

And talk about short memory, too.

"One of Brian's strengths is the ability to refocus," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "We talked about it last year, when he started to play back-to-back games, and his ability, if there was a goal that he wished he had a second chance, he lets it go and gets ready for the next chance. That speaks to his maturity as an athlete."

In addition, the Huskies — the only team to beat the Badgers in their last 10 games — aren't about to get on their high horse over their effort two weeks ago.

"He's a tremendous talent; he's obviously got the track record," Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell said via the WCHA Final Five teleconference Tuesday. "He anchored them in their national championship and has a lot of experience in big games.

"As a goalie, he's very good technically. … We have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the entire Wisconsin program."

UW's offense did a good job on Denver's defense with five goals in two games. But there's no denying it; the Badgers will need Elliott to stay sharp in order to complete the unthinkable — a WCHA tournament championship, by virtue of three wins in three nights.

And the way Elliott has looked this season, 2-3 goals per game for UW might just be enough to pull it off.

"In order for us to make a run, he's going to have to keep that up," forward Andy Brandt said.

Elliott, who has a 10-2 mark in playoff games (and has won his last seven), says he's aware of how well he's performed lately and how he needs to continue on that path in order for this team to succeed.

"I was tracking the puck well and seeing through screens," Elliott said of the Denver series. "It's a thin line between how you want to play and how you do play, so when you step over that line, it feels good. I think the other guys feed off of it too."

If the rest of the Badgers can feed off of their goaltender and play as well as he has this month, this season and in his career — well, anything is possible.