Jake Allen got the news without any kind of fanfare or special delivery. Though the St. Louis goaltender had never been named the starter for an NHL playoff game, coach Ken Hitchcock stuck with his usual routine Wednesday, using one simple phrase to let Allen know he would be in net for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Wild.
“We’re treating this no different than any other game,” Allen said. “He just tells you that you’re going, and that’s it.”
Those ordinary words didn’t diminish how extraordinary they sounded to Allen. After playing one minute in one playoff game in 2012, Allen, 24, got the nod over veteran Brian Elliott for Game 1 at St. Louis’s Scottrade Center. The two goalies split time for much of the regular season and finished with nearly equal statistics, but Hitchcock opted to go with a rookie who is on a roll.
Allen is 3-1-0 in April, giving up one goal in each of those games while compiling a save percentage of .964. He has given up two goals or fewer in 11 of his past 13 appearances — including the past eight — and is 22-7-4 this season.
Hitchcock typically notifies his starting goalie the day before the game, and he did not want to vary from that pattern this week. There had been much speculation about whether he would go with Allen, untested in the NHL playoff cauldron, or Elliott, who has been steady this season but unimpressive in the playoffs. Elliott is 6-10 in 18 playoff appearances with a goals-against average of 2.55 and save percentage of .898.
Allen faced the Wild twice this season. He stopped 36 of 38 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory for the Blues on Nov. 29, and he stopped 10 of 12 in relief of Elliott on March 21 as the Wild won 6-3. Both games were at Xcel Energy Center.
“It was great,” Allen said of his reaction to getting the start. “It was a pretty cool feeling, to be honest. I definitely wouldn’t be thinking I’d be starting Game 1 at the start of the year. But it’s been a whirlwind year for me, and a whirlwind five years to get to this point. I’ve been working for this moment all year. To be able to get the start, it’s going to be huge.”
The Blues have faced questions all week about their collapses in their past two playoff series. In 2013, they won the first two games of their first-round matchup against Los Angeles, then were knocked out when they lost four in a row. The same thing happened last year against Chicago.
Forward Ryan Reaves said the players thought about that disappointment, then forgot about it — except for the valuable knowledge they gleaned from two high-profile stumbles.
“You’ve got to keep your foot on the gas,” Reaves said. “We were up 2-0 [last year], and I think we kind of thought we had it in the bag. I think you’ve just got to make sure you finish out every series. Otherwise, good teams can come back on you.”
The Wild conducted full practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but the Blues took a brief break from the ice.
With the team fully healthy for the first time since late January, Hitchcock wants to make sure it is properly rested, too. Last season, seven injured players were missing from the Blues’ first playoff practice.
“When we went into the [Game 1] pregame skate, we skated without four players,” Hitchcock said of the Blues’ depleted lineup last spring. “This year, we’re healthy. We’re also fresh.”