Flames Backup McElhinney's Career Saved By Flu Bug

Scott Fitzsimmons@@Chuck_SimmsAnalyst INovember 13, 2009

DALLAS - NOVEMBER 04:  DALLAS - NOVEMBER Goaltender Curtis McElhinney #1 of the Calgary Flames makes a save in front of Loui Eriksson #21 of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on November 4, 2009 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Curtis McElhinney got a chance last week that could have been an opportunity not unlike one Jeff Garcia got when Steve Young went down in San Francisco with the NFL's 49ers. Young Went down and Garcia did a job that ended up moving him from a possible career back-up to a three-time Pro Bowler.

Okay, I know McElhinney has a long way to go before any of us will be convinced he'll be an all star in this league. There are however a few big things that happened last Wednesday in Dallas, that made everybody in Flames nation breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The out come of the game was what calmed many of us as Flames fans as Calgary beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 in overtime. It was a very solid victory, but it was more how things came together that allowed us this relief.

Before I take you any further, I need you to understand the history of Curtis McElhinney.

McElhinney was drafted 176th overall in the sixth round of the 2002 NHL Entry draft. It's not a position that usually has a lot of expectation on it, but McElhinney has made good of his chances that brought him to this opportunity to play in the Big League.

With 68 wins in 92 games with Colorado College, and 35 wins with the Flames affiliate in Omaha in 06/07, McElhinney has excelled since being drafted. That was however until he played in Calgary.

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With the big club, McElhinney hasn't been quite so successful. His first NHL start came in '07/'08, but it wasn't until the final game in '08/'09 that McElhinney recorded his first win. That is a record that doesn't look good, and can't be good for the confidence. There is one thing however that is worse for the confidence. A lack of effort by your fellow teammates.

McElhinney has only had minimal chances to get starts in Calgary, but the team seems to turn the switch to coast when he's between the pipes. In the beginning, McElhinney would make save after save, and see the team put together some of their worst offensive outputs, leaving McElhinney with another "L."

Then there was his 3-1 lead in Detroit against the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. The Flames left McElhinney to try to fend for himself, as Detroit pelted him with shots, and the Wings stormed back to defeat Calgary 4-3 in overtime.

With loss after loss piling up for McElhinney, confidence seemed to be slipping, both with the goalie, and with the team. Team play didn't pick up, and soft goals seemed to creep past the Flames backup. The victory at the end of the season did little to comfort the fans, as it had no bearing on the regular season standings.

Fast forward to this season, and confidence took a step backwards with a 5-2 loss at the hand of the Dallas Stars. What made things worse, was that it was the first loss of the season for the Flames after four straight.

Had he won, it would have set a record for Calgary with five consecutive wins to start the season. This must have had everyone questioning how long McElhinney was going to remain a Calgary Flame.

When Miikka Kiprusoff didn't skate last week, and McElhinney was informed that he would get the start, many people held their collective breath. Especially after the Flames had just been chastised by their coach and forced to run through a practise the Flames won't soon forget.

What was going to happen? There was one thing that's for sure. The Flames wouldn't be allowed to play their lacklustre self in front on McElhinney.

The effort was definitely there for both the goaltender and his teammates. They were hitting, winning battles, and McElhinney even had a shutout going through 2 periods, leading 1-0.

The pressure came in the third, as the Stars scored two quick goals to take the lead. The Flames and McElhinney held their composure, and battled back to win a huge 3-2 overtime victory in which McElhinney made a remarkable 38 saves.

This game has done a lot for the team's confidence as it was the first of four straight wins. It has no doubt done a lot for McElhinney as he received the second star in the game and a lot of praise from his teammates. It has also bought another chance between the pipes with the coach, and hopefully a little slack from the fans.

Had the Flames not looked poor in Detroit a few days previous, there would have been no bag skate for the team. Had there been no flu symptoms, McElhinney would not have made the start.

Had there been no bag skate, the Flames probably would have played their same old game in front of McElhinney, and we may never have seen Mac in the Flaming C again.

We can only hope the confidence inspired by these series of events can remain, and McElhinney can become the backup and maybe the future starter the Flames hoped he might become back on draft day in 2002.

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