ST. LOUIS — The rookie goalie stood in the center of a spotlight beam and listened to the applause that accompanied the reading of his name. It felt good to be back. It felt good to have another chance to show everyone this is where he belongs.
“Everyone has that doubt,” Jake Allen would say later in the evening. “The management, the coaches, the players. I knew I was capable of playing at this level, but I want to take doubt out of a lot of people’s heads.”
With the recent loss of starting goalie Jaroslav Halak to a lower-body injury, the St. Louis Blues are still trying to find the right man to fill a key position as the playoffs loom. Maybe it is Brian Elliot. Or, maybe it is Allen, the 22-year old who has bounced back and forth between the Blues and the AHL Peoria Rivermen.
It was the rookie who got the call Friday night. And he delivered, stopping 26 of the 27 shots launched by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Blues’ 3-1 win at the Scottrade Center.
For a while, it appeared Allen just might stop them all.
Columbus missed seven shots on goal in the first period. Here’s how: pucks clacked of Allen’s stick, bounced off his padded knees, deflected off his fists and nestled into the webbing of his glove. Columbus forward Ryan Johansen got rejected twice. His teammate, Cam Atkinson did, too — and his two were from point-blank range.
Both teams were scoreless after one period.
Shortly into the second, Columbus forward Mark Letestu streaked toward Allen on a threatening breakaway. Allen spoiled it by deflecting Letestu’s first shot, then his second.
Those in the stands clapped harder than they had during Allen’s introduction.
“What’s going through your mind when a guy is coming in on a breakaway?” Allen was asked after the game.
“Stop it,” he answered. “Just be as patient as I can. Try to make them make the first move …. That’s my thing. Try to wait them out. A lot of these guys in this league are going to try to wait you out, but if you can wait that extra second, you have the advantage.”
Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky broke first.
Chris Stewart scored his 16th goal of the season when he backhanded a shot past Bobrovsky for a power-play score with 15:58 left in the second period. The way Allen had played until that point, one wondered if that might be enough to win the game.
Columbus forward Artem Anisimov knotted the game with 1:24 left the second. Allen had deflected much more difficult shots previously, but the puck went between his legs and the game was tied 1-1.
The crowd groaned.
The goalie later explained: “He [Anisimov] was trying to go upstairs. I lifted up, like he was going up top. He fanned on it and went through my legs. It was an unfortunate little break there.”
His teammates soon fixed the flaw. Eleven seconds after Columbus scored, David Backes sent a puck past Bobrovsky to steal back the lead. And from that point on, Allen went back to snuffing any chance of a Columbus score
In the final minute — before Patrik Berglund scored the empty-netter that cemented the game’s final score — Columbus forward Brandon Dubinsky showed his frustration by hacking the back of Allen’s net with his stick.
“He only had 27 shots, but 15 of them were grade-A scoring chances,” Stewart said of Allen’s performance. “He stepped up. Kudos to him. He wants to get in the net, and he’s competing. He’s making it tough on the coaches to make a decision on who is going to play in the next game.”
That’s exactly what Allen wants. Friday marked win No. 9
“This is where I want to be,” he said. “This is where I have worked to be my whole life. Unfortunately, for me, I’ve been sent down a couple of times. But, I got called right back up. I feel like I’ve made the most of my opportunity so far.”
The lone goal Allen had surrendered was long forgotten by the time he skated loose circles on the ice after the win. Again, the spotlight found him. Again, Blues fans cheered his name. And again, more doubt about the rookie goalie disappeared.