By now, most hockey fans have become familiar with the narrative surrounding St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen.
The story of the St. Louis Blues goaltender is well known these days. In brief: He takes over as the go-to goaltender with a trade of Brian Elliott, hits a mid-season roadblock and then overcomes his struggle to lead the team to a sixth straight playoff bid.
Within the past 96 hours, Jake Allen has been extended this narrative to a new high.
The Blues won their first two games of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Minnesota Wild, both 2-1 road victories over an emerging division rival. Between those two contests, Allen stopped 74 of 76 shots. That led to to a .974 save percentage and 0.87 goals against average.
Allen’s impact has stretched beyond the stats. He is playing with a level of confidence, poise and athleticism that few goalies came close to matching through the first week of playoffs. He is also offering stability to a position that the Blues have lacked leading up to recent playoff runs.
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In particular, Allen has developed a stronger sense of situational goaltending. This was key to his progression as a hybrid netminder in the final months of the regular season in regards to his positioning and awareness of on-ice trends within the game.
For instance, Minnesota averaged significantly more puck possession time throughout the first two games. They controlled the puck more than twice as often as the Blues between both third periods. Allen adjusted to several minute-plus rushes, maintaining composure in front of all parts of the net aside from two top-corner goals from Zach Parise.
Allen’s even-strength play has also been sensational. This is especially important against a Minnesota team that recorded a league-high 187 goals in 5-on-5 play the regular season.
The only goals he allowed came from the Wild gaining an extra skater in Game 1 for an empty net opportunity and a 5-on-3 penalty kill in Game 2. Yet Allen has fared well on the penalty kill, even with the defense limiting the Wild to less than a dozen shots on goals in power plays throughout the series.
Another key to Allen’s emergence has been his ability to shut down all Wild scorers besides Parise. Minnesota had four players with at least 20 goals this season. All have been held scoreless on a combined 24 shots and an even plus/minus rating in the series.
Minimizing the offensive chances for these players has been especially crucial considering that Minnesota has countered well in this facet.
The Wild have limited Blues leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko to just one assist and seven shots on goal in the series. Devan Dubnyk has kept both games tight with strong recognition of St. Louis’s top playmakers, another factor Allen has accounted for leading up to both victories.
Coming into the series, Allen had some career success against the Wild. He came in with a 6-3-0 record, .923 save percentage and 2.09 goals against average. Allen has fueled a strong team response after losing in the first round to Minnesota two years ago, as the Blues won their first two road games of playoffs for the only third time in franchise history.
Almost any way you look at it, Jake Allen is playing the best hockey in the highest stakes of his professional career right now. To what extent or length this will continue is unknown. So, the Blues will need to keep improving their overall game around Allen’s hot hand in hopes for a deep playoff run.
Allen will seek his fourth career playoff win when the St. Louis Blues open up the home portion of this series on Sunday at 2 p.m.