ST. LOUIS (AP) Three months ago, most St. Louis Blues fans were ready to run goalie Jake Allen out of town. Now they are chanting his name.
Allen is the main reason the Blues, whose major January swoon got their coach fired, are one win away from sweeping the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Game 4 is Wednesday night.
Allen has stopped 114 of 117 shots in the series for a .974 save percentage. Only one of the three goals he’s given up has come at even strength against a team that averaged 3.21 goals a game, second best in the NHL regular season.
“I’m just playing my game,” Allen said. “I don’t know what’s going on over there but we’re just focused on ourselves and we’re not worrying about what they’re doing or what they’re changing or doing to their lineup.”
Allen’s playoff performance is a far cry from a dreadful span from Dec. 8 to Jan. 31, when he was 4-10-0 with a 3.50 goals-against average and a .876 save percentage. Allen was so bad that he was left home from a January road trip so he could mentally regroup. On Feb. 1, the Blues fired coach Ken Hitchcock and goalie coach Jim Corsi. Mike Yeo replaced Hitchcock and Martin Brodeur took over Corsi’s role.
Allen took off. The 26-year-old has a 1.85 GAA and a .938 save percentage since Yeo took over.
Read more: A remarkable turnaround for Allen
Blues forward David Perron said Allen never got rattled during his struggles.
“During the season if he was getting pulled or whatever he showed up the next day and did the work and I think we’re really proud of him the way he’s playing right now, but at the same time you could have swore he played the exact same way the whole year,” Perron said. “He’s pretty level headed and we definitely need that.”
Yeo said Brodeur’s influence is seen in Allen’s mental preparation.
“One of the biggest areas is how he handles the days in between, what he can draw upon from his own experience as arguably the best goaltender of all time,” Yeo said. “How do you play at that level all the time? Obviously you learn very quickly to put the past behind you, you learn from it whatever, but you find a way to get focused, feel good, and confident going into the next one and I think that’s what we’re seeing with Marty.”
Nothing has come easy for Allen since the Blues drafted him in the second round of the 2008 NHL entry draft.
He split time with Brian Elliott his first two full NHL seasons. Allen’s first prolonged playoff experience ended with him getting pulled in Game 6 of a first-round series in 2015 against the Wild. He started all six games of that series, which Minnesota won, going 2-4 with a .904 save percentage.
Still, the Blues had enough confidence in Allen’s pedigree – he had won a gold and silver medal for Team Canada as a junior player – to trade fan-favorite Elliott to Calgary in the offseason.
That decision is finally paying dividends.
“I think maybe subconsciously he’s been so good for us it kind of gives you a sense of calm back there,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “Knowing you have a guy back there that if you make a mistake he’s going to be able to bail you out.”
Allen has left an impression with the Wild.
“He’s obviously playing extremely well and he’s sharp . … All you can do is keep driving to the net, get bodies to the net, get pucks to the net,” Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “That’s what you have to do and see if you can get a couple in there and change the momentum.”
Even with a commanding lead in the series, Allen isn’t taking anything for granted.
“The next game is going to be even harder so we’re going to have to take the next two days to rest up and be ready for the hardest game yet,” Allen said.