Through his years with the Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz has learned how important the ability to be flexible has contributed to his success.
That was the case back in September when Dan Ellis came to the Predators’ training camp listed third on the goaltending depth chart. Chris Mason was penciled in at No. 1 and Pekka Rinne appeared to be ready to make the move to the NHL.
But in training camp, while Rinne was the most impressive in practice, Ellis showcased his skills best in game situations. Ellis earned the spot and Rinne was returned to the Milwaukee Admirals.
“Goaltending is one of those positions that it takes a while to master,” said Trotz. “Sometimes a player gets labeled as a minor leaguer and people overlook you.
“We had to react. Chris was having trouble finding his game. Danny sort of got us going and was able to sustain us. His numbers prove that. What we thought we were going into the season with at goaltender actually flip-flopped. When you recognize and award people for what they do then you have a good chance to succeed.”
Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the Joe Louis Arena, Ellis will be in net as the No.8-seeded Predators meet the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
“I came from a long way out,” Ellis said. “To have the opportunity to be the starting goalie for Game 1 of the playoffs is a dream come true for me.
“I look forward to the challenge. It’s something completely new to me at this level, but not new to me at other levels. It has been a process to get to this point. The next challenge is to win the Stanley Cup.”
He played in 44 games this season, posting a 23-10-3 record. His .924 save percentage is tops in the NHL, one point ahead of Pittsburgh’s Ty Conklin.
Ellis played one NHL game for the Dallas Stars last season and then was allowed to seek fame and fortune with another franchise as an unrestricted free agent. Trotz pointed out that it is not unusual for a goaltender to play better for his second NHL team. A prime example is former Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun, who was cut loose by the Montreal Canadiens.
“There are so many goalies that don’t make the NHL until they play for their second organization,” Trotz said. “They are on a different time frame than the other players.”
The last time Ellis faced the Red Wings was March 30 in Detroit. He held the Red Wings scoreless for all three periods in regulation, but gave up the winning goal in overtime in a 1-0 loss. In his previous start the Predators beat Detroit 3-1.
“We have gained momentum going through the final stretch that we went through with our backs up against the wall,” Ellis said. “We have defied a lot of the odds that we had against us.
“The last game against Detroit was a great game. We hit few posts early and they got a goal late. We have had hard-fought games with them all season. We can gain momentum and confidence from that.”
The two teams have faced each other eight times this season. Ellis doesn’t expect any surprises.
“We have gotten to know each other,” Ellis said. “We have created little rivalries. Certain guys have individual people they have grudge matches with.
“There is a healthy respect, but we don’t fear them. It is a team that we cannot take lightly. It is a team that can do some damage to you if you are not prepared. We have to give them the respect that they deserve.”
Ellis has no problems facing the more than 20,000 fans in Detroit.
“It is one of my favorite rinks to play in,” Ellis said. “It is an old building with a lot of character. It is a team that is rich in tradition. They have great fans. They love their team and support them through and through. They have had a number of All-Star and Hall of Fame players go through that organization.
“To play in a building that is rocking every playoff season and most all of the time in the regular season is special. Their fans are going to be all over us. But when they come to Nashville our fans will be all over them.”