Hitchcock tabs Jake Allen for Game 1 start in net vs. Wild

ST. LOUIS — Blues goaltender Jake Allen, who spent most of the season backing up Brian Elliott in net, will start Game 1 of the team’s first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.

"It’s his turn," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday. "One guy’s had a great season, and one guy’s had a great last six weeks. And we opted to go with the guy that’s had a great last six weeks, so either way, it’s a decision that we couldn’t be wrong with."

While both Blues goaltenders have more than 20 wins and save percentages over .910 this season, Allen, in his first full year on an NHL roster, helped the team secure key wins near the end of the regular season, including two against the division rival Chicago Blackhawks. One of those clinched the division title and subsequent home-ice advantage that Allen will enjoy Thursday. In his last four starts, the 24-year-old rookie allowed only one goal per game, and against the Blackhawks on Thursday he was less than three minutes away from his fifth shutout on the year before Chicago’s Andrew Shaw scored.

Hitchcock took Allen’s recent success, and the arc of his season, into consideration when giving him the start.

"Just his overall development, and then the way he played in the last month, we want to give him a chance to go in the playoffs," Hitchcock said. "Both guys have really earned the right to play in the playoffs, and both guys need to stay sharp, but we wanted to give Jake Game 1."

Allen has a .920 save percentage against the Wild this year. His only start against them came on Nov. 29, when Elliott was sidelined with injury. The Blues won the game 3-2 in a shootout.

Allen goes into the series with only one minute of NHL playoff experience, but 12 playoff games in the American Hockey League and time on the Canadian World Juniors team. Hitchcock thinks his overall resume is enough.

"He knows this stage," Hitchcock said. "Nothing’s going to shock him or surprise him."

Allen said he’s felt calm all year, but now feels he knows the league.

"First year as a goaltender is different than the forward," he said. "You have to understand the shooters, the players, the teams, what they do, their tendencies, who’s out there, who’s around."

Hitchcock confirmed the goaltending decision is only for Game 1, and that starts beyond that will be day-to-day decisions. He added he "anticipates" having one goalie, but is open to making a change if needed.

Allen, meanwhile, gave a gracious stick tap to the goaltender who’s now waiting in the wings.

"Ells has helped me tremendously throughout this year just to get to this point," Allen said. "Whoever’s in the net, we’re gonna give the guys a good chance."

You can follow Elisabeth Meinecke on Twitter at @lismeinecke or email her at ecmeinecke@gmail.com