Thanks to rising star goalie Jake Allen’s 40 Saves Sunday, the St. Louis Blues have stonewalled the Minnesota Wild while taking a 3-0 series lead. The Blues have frustrated the explosive Wild’s offense, surrendering just one goal in all three matches.
OK, so it’s not Ken Dryden in 1971 – yet – but for as many critics Allen endured at the start of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Wild, he is answering many with each sweeping glove save. He has denied 114 of 117 shots on goal this series. And he’s doing it versus a team which placed second in regular-season scoring.
Allen on Sunday turned aside 40 shots during the Blues’ 3-1 victory at Scottrade Center. The Blues lead the best-of-seven series, 3-0, and can close it out Wednesday in St. Louis.
Few insiders predicted Allen to be a breakout playoff star this spring. The former 2008 second-round draft choice toiled in the AHL for parts of four seasons before earning a full-time gig with the Blues. His performance has been promising, earning 57 wins in his opening 99 NHL regular-season decisions, but not overwhelming.
Doubters arose during the season’s first half when Allen struggled with the system under former coach Ken Hitchcock. But when the Blues brought in Mike Yeo as coach and allowed Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur to take over goalie coach responsibilities, along with serving as assistant general manager, Allen went from the league’s lowest-rated NHL starter to its most consistent. Allen recorded 11 wins and a 1.85 GAA over his final 15 regular-season starts, according to StarTribune.com.
With a goalie-friendly system and Brodeur as a mentor, should the hockey world be so surprised of Allen’s sudden playoff emergence? Some questioned his series-long credentials after a Game 1, 51-save outing, wondering if he could carry the Blues for an entire series. Three games in, he has.
“He’s been unbelievable, in the zone,” Blues forward Jaden Schwartz told Associated Press after the game. “He’s a big reason why we got these three wins, and it gives us a lot of confidence.”
Schwartz was credited with the winning goal Sunday, scoring on a second-period power play. Schwartz, who absorbed the high stick of Ryan White to create the penalty, capitalized off a behind-the-net assist from Alexander Steen. Colton Parayko and Steen (empty net) also scored for the Blues.
Thus far in the series, the Blues have blended opportunistic scoring with elite, star-making goaltending to create a 3-0 advantage. Allen has posted a .091 goals-against average and .974 save percentage against the Wild, who entered the postseason as a favorite to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
“He’s making some big, timely saves, which gives us a lot of momentum,” Schwartz said.
Down 1-0 in the second period, Sunday, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was asked during an in-game interview what the Wild needed to do to disrupt Allen’s focus.
He said his players would find success if they charge the net and make Allen uncomfortable. He was right. Nearly 2 minutes later, Charlie Coyle charged the net and scored off a rebound. It was the Wild’s first even-strength goal this series. Thanks to Allen, it’s still the lone marker.
If not for Allen’s performances, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk could be the one generating headlines. Dubnyk has yielded just two goals in each series start. On Sunday, Dubnyk kept the Wild close with 28 saves.
“We’ve played three pretty good hockey games and we’ve just to keep playing hard,” Dubnyk told AP. “Putting pucks to the net and trying to get some bounces and see if we can turn the momentum.”