"It was my 21st birthday at midnight that night," said the Ottawa Senators goaltender, who anchored the University of Wisconsin"s 2-1 victory over Boston College in 2006 national championship game. "Everything seemed to go right, like at the last second the shot hitting the post. It was one of the best feelings ever. I'd like to experience something like that again in the playoffs."
So would the Senators, who have waited for a clear No. 1 goalie for a couple of seasons now. Elliott, 24, may have given up as many goals in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday as he'd allowed in the previous four games, but he's still in the midst of one of his best stretches as a pro -- a career path that was hardly certain when he arrived at Wisconsin as a freshman.
"He came in as a walk-on," said former Wisconsin goalie coach Bill Howard. "Nobody offered him a scholarship. He didn't have a whole lot of choices. We had just lost our goalie to the Blackhawks so after we saw some tape of Brian, we brought him in."
The Senators, likewise, didn't know what they had when they drafted Elliott in ninth round (291st overall) in 2003. After a college career that included a national title and a Hobey Baker Award finalist selection, the Sens realized they at least had a serviceable backup.
That changed this season -- the first Elliott hasn't spent in the minors -- when starter Pascal Leclaire struggled.
"We knew Brian Elliott had talent," Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray said. "We also know it takes some time for players to develop, especially goaltenders. I think he's maturing. Teams that have a high level of goaltending are usually the teams that are contending. Brian has given us that on a more consistent basis."
Like many young goalies, Elliott has been streaky. He's won nine games in a row each of the last two seasons, but there have been bouts of inconsistency as well.
"He's progressed quite a bit," Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "Like the whole team this season, Brian has had some ups and downs. By handling adversity, that's how you grow and become better. He's definitely earned the position he's in."
Alfredsson also said that Elliott can come out of his usually shy shell with hilarious results.
"He throws in jokes (people don't expect) because he's quiet," Alfredsson said. "You don't hear much of the time, but when you do it's usually a good joke or comment. He's a fun guy to be around."
Elliott is 28-17-3 with a .910 save percentage and 2.53 goals against average. Leclaire, who has lost his last four starts, is 11-13-2 with a.890 save percentage and 3.18 GAA. Leclaire has also had a couple injuries this season -- including when he missed time after he was struck in the face with a puck on the bench -- that resulted in more playing time for Elliott.
"Your goal is to always to be the No. 1 goalie," Elliott said. "That's what I trained for in the summer. No matter what your role is. He went down with some injuries and I had to come in and play a lot of games."
"It's an evolving process," Elliott said. "I've gone up and down and tried different things. Now, I'm back to what I used to do in college. I try to have a little bit of fun before the game and when it comes to game time, try to bear down and be a little more serious."
It worked in the Frozen Four and Elliott will find out in a couple weeks if the same routine will mesh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.