CHICAGO - They show up when you least expect it. Many times they've spent the last few games, weeks or months watching the craft of another about 75 feet away.
Then their chance arrives, by fate or process, and this person takes advantage.
It can happen in any round of the playoffs, but the first is typical. Sometimes this goaltender can aid your team's quest, other times it can be the one that causes it to fall short.
Blackhawks fans know this phenomenon. It was their kryptonite in the early 1990's with guys like Jon Casey, Curtis Joseph or Felix Potvin. The latter of the group closed Chicago Stadium with a 1-0 shutout for the Maple Leafs in 1994-Potvin's second of three 1-0 shutout wins that shut down another promising Stanley Cup run.
It's helped a lot, too.
Antti Niemi won the job late in the 2010 season and didn't give it up till he hoisted the Stanley Cup two months later. Corey Crawford, who slumped late in the 2013 season, caught a similar hot streak en route to another cup. Scott Darling pulled him through a rough patch during last year's playoffs in the first round before Crawford led the Blackhawks to a third championship in six seasons.
So, with history as a judge, a hot goaltender works for and against you. Brian Elliott is the second of those choices right now for the Blackhawks.
He was peppered with 35 shots on goal in the opener and stopped them all. Two got past him in a loss in Game 2, but still he stopped 26 of them to keep his team in it till the end. Sunday might have been his best day yet even though two Blackhawks shots reached the nylon behind him in Game 3.
Those were two shots out of 46 as the home ice made the Blackhawks more aggressive on offense but not exactly successful. Elliott would shutout the hosts in the final 38:56 seconds, turning back a number of opportunities for them to build a lead and giving his Blues enough time to rally back for a 3-2 win.
To think this came after Elliott allowed a goal on the first shot of the game - a long-range fire by Brent Seabrook which gave the Blackhawks their first 1-0 lead of the series.
“You never obviously first shot of the game, you never want to give it up. We got some tough calls right away, after that we killed them off and we did a great job, like you said it kind of, definitely settles you in," said Elliott. "You’re down one and you got to come back, so now the rest is kind of up to your teammates and they did a good job coming back.”
So did Elliott. It was just about seven weeks ago that the goalie was put on injured reserve with a lower body injury, allowing Jake Allen to step into his place and potentially win the job for the playoffs. But he kept it by winning six of his last eight regular season games and put a lock on it with an impressive series so far which Elliott has stopped 105 of the 109 shots he's faced.
At the moment, it's got the defending Stanley Cup champions scrambling a bit.
Offensively, I think we can keep creating the way we have with the puck down low and working for those second chances and those rebounds around the net and just finding those ugly goals," said forward Jonathan Toews, who has the Blackhawks' No. 1 line's only point in the series with an assist in Game 2. "At the other end of the rink we obviously have some improvements to make in just managing the puck a little bit better.”
There is only so much they can do, however. History in the NHL teaches that when the man in goal is hot, cooling off takes a little while.