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When Lightning came calling, ‘Moose’ answered

Veteran goaltender Brian Elliott will serve as Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup in net.
Brian Elliott replaces Curtis McElhinney as the backup to Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Brian Elliott replaces Curtis McElhinney as the backup to Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sep. 24

BRANDON — It hasn’t been an easy road for new Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott. A ninth-round pick, his career began with a lottery ticket. He’s been a starter and a backup, an All-Star and the league leader in save percentage.

Along the way, he’s carved out a 14-year career with the mindset that he’d make the best of every opportunity presented to him. So when the Lightning came calling this offseason with the offer of becoming Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup, Elliott couldn’t say no.

“Having a two-time Stanley Cup champion knock on your door, that’s definitely intriguing and you want to be part of that,” Elliott said.

He replaces Curtis McElhinney, who served as the Lightning’s No. 2 goaltender the previous two seasons. Elliott spent the past four seasons with the Flyers, posting a 65-38-14 record, 2.86 goals against average and .902 save percentage.

He started 26 of Philadelphia’s 56 games last season, more than anticipated due to highly touted Carter Hart’s growing pains.

Elliott should see fewer starts playing behind Vasilevskiy, who led the league in wins the past four seasons and started 75 percent of the Lightning’s regular-season games the past two seasons, plus all 48 (including the three round-robin games in 2020) during Tampa Bay’s back-to-back Stanley Cup playoff runs.

Still, Elliott averaged 30 starts during his four seasons in Philadelphia, so he can carry a larger load. It could allow the Lightning to rest Vasilevskiy more often following two long postseasons (and the short offseasons that followed) and a break in the schedule during which Vasilevskiy likely will play for Russia in the Olympics.

“Being able to know that we can count on Brian Elliott, who is a veteran who’s played this role for many years, who can handle the workload, obviously, that brings us great comfort,” said Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois, “and that’s why we brought him in.”

Even at 36, Elliott says he’s still learning, trying to take little things from his goaltending partners’ games to add to his own. He said he can already tell there’s plenty to learn from Vasilevskiy.

Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott and center Steven Stamkos watch a puck roll wide of the net during drills Thursday at TGH Ice Plex in Brandon.
Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott and center Steven Stamkos watch a puck roll wide of the net during drills Thursday at TGH Ice Plex in Brandon. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“I think it’s just his consistency with his positioning,” Elliott said. “You don’t see too many differences with him from shot to shot or drill to drill, and I think that’s probably what makes him such an elite goaltender.

“... I obviously can’t play exactly like he can. But I can take bits and pieces and try to implement it in my own game, so that’s what’s fun about being a goalie and having a partner like that.”

When Elliott signed with the Lightning in late July, he was surprised to have several players reach out to him to offer help with relocating to Tampa.

“I think you expect it from a captain or an assistant captain here or there, but there was a lot of guys and I was definitely surprised and happy,” Elliott said.” And it just makes you feel that you’re welcomed and that you’re going to be a part of this group, so it was really nice to get that.”

New Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott backed up Carter Hart in Philadelphia last season.
New Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott backed up Carter Hart in Philadelphia last season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Elliott’s nickname is “Moose,” and for several years he’s had some sort of moose reference on his helmet — either antlers or a moose head or the word, “Moose.” It’s a tribute to Owen Scott, a close family friend who was a world champion moose caller and died during his freshman year of college at Wisconsin.

The “moooooose” chants have followed from hometown fans. Elliott’s newly designed Lightning helmet has lightning bolts and palm trees on the sides and a moose head with sunglasses on the back.

Asked the last time he did a moose call, Elliott said, “I don’t know. It’s been a while. I said the next time I was going to do it was when I had the Stanley Cup.

“So, hopefully pretty soon.”

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