Jake Allen’s playoff success this year has been extremely refreshing, and we should be able to determine during the Blues’ next series if he’s truly changed.
While it’d be inappropriate to discount anyone’s role in helping the St. Louis Blues to beat the Minnesota Wild in five games and advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the star of the show to this point has obviously been goaltender Jake Allen.
The 26-year-old netminder hit rock bottom earlier in the season, posting a 1-4 record with a disastrous 4.06 goals-against average and .841 save percentage over seven games in January. He was even left in St. Louis when the Blues traveled to Winnipeg in late January, with minor-leaguer Pheonix Copley taking his spot in net. Just months after he signed a four-year, $17.4 million-dollar with the Blues, it looked like the investment Allen might have been a poor one on the part of GM Doug Armstrong.
After head coach Ken Hitchcock was fired on February 1, though, Allen experienced a total turnaround. He posted a 16-7 record with a 1.85 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, and three shutouts in 25 games. He’s kept his momentum going into the postseason. During the Blues’ five-game series with the Wild, Allen posted a 1.47 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage, both of which led the league during the first round.
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That playoff success was refreshing, because Allen hasn’t had much luck in the playoffs, dating back all the way to his teenage years. While Allen has had dominant stretches during the regular season and has excelled during international play, his ability to compete when it matters most has always been a major question mark.
While he thrived with two Canadian World Junior teams–first a gold medal recipient U-18 club in 2007-08, then a silver-medal-winning U-20 club in 2009-10–Allen hasn’t found sustained postseason success at any level until now. Allen’s greatest success came during the earliest days of his competitive career, when he won three playoff series at the junior ranks, advancing to the QMJHL quarterfinals with Junior de Montréal in 2008-09, then making it to the QMHJL semi-finals in ’09-’10 with the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
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His numbers weren’t particularly good during either of those postseasons, though. Over 10 games in ’08-’09, Allen went 4-6 with a 3.59 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage. ’09-’10 was Allen’s best playoff run, as he went 9-5 with a 2.43 GAA and a .899 save percentage. Obviously, though, he was facing a much lower level of competition, and he’s really struggled up until now whenever he’s been thrown into a postseason environment at the professional level.
In his first shot at the AHL playoffs with the Peoria Rivermen in 2010-11, Allen struggled mightily, going 0-3 with a 3.81 GAA and .888 save percentage as the Rivermen were swept in a first-round playoff series.
St. Louis Blues
During the 2014 AHL postseason, he once again struggled, posting a 3-6 record with 3.29 GAA and a .879 save percentage with one shutout.
As plenty of Blues fans remember well, Allen got off to a solid start but then quickly wore down during his first extended taste of NHL postseason action in 2014-15. After winning the starter job for the playoffs by getting extremely hot down the stretch, Allen had some good moments in the Blues’ first-round series with the Minnesota Wild, but his numbers didn’t end up looking great at the end of the day. He finished with a 2-4 record, a 2.20 GAA, and a .904 save percentage.
Despite the fact that Allen actually ended up with worse numbers last year than he did in 2014-15, Allen’s experience during the 2015-16 postseason actually may have been his turning point. After he was given the chance to start Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals as Brian Elliott struggled, Allen battled his way to a victory, stopping 31 of 34 San Jose Sharks shots, even as his team accumulated 27 penalty minutes. He did end up allowing four goals–including two on the power play–while facing 25 shots as the Blues suffered a 6-3 loss to the Sharks in Game 5. But it’s certainly possible that the win he gutted out in Game 4 could have been a major confidence builder for him.
The Blues’ second-round series with Nashville will be Allen’s greatest test yet, as he’ll have to outduel Pekka Rinne, and unlike in the past two years, he won’t have Elliott waiting on the bench to come save him if he’s not up to the task. Allen already proved during the first round that he’s got what it takes to be an effective starter in the playoffs, but he could truly cement himself as one of the NHL’s elite netminders with a standout second-round performance.