Jake Allen’s redemption ended in disappointment, but it’s still redemption

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Jake Allen was upset following St. Louis’ season-ending loss to Nashville on Sunday.

To nobody’s surprise.

“We didn’t advance far enough,” he said, per the Post-Dispatch. “[I’m] disappointed. We had an opportunity this year that not many people thought we’d even get to the playoffs, or win a round.

“But I feel like we could have easily went to the next round. It’s frustrating that way.”

Allen’s got a point. When the Blues were at their lowest this year — 25-22-5 on Feb. 4, ninth in the Western Conference — many thought the playoffs were out of reach.

But the Blues made it.

Many of those same people didn’t pick St. Louis to beat Minnesota in Round 1.

But the Blues beat ’em.

And Allen was the reason why.

It was, and we can say this without hyperbole, one of the more remarkable in-season turnarounds in recent memory. Allen couldn’t have been any lower in early February. He, along with Carter Hutton and Pheonix Copley, had up to that point combined for an NHL-worst .887 save percentage. The trio was collectively bad, but the pressure was entirely on Allen.

That pressure began last summer, when Allen signed to a four-year, $17.4 million extension just days after longtime battery mate Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary. Blues GM Doug Armstrong said the transactions were symbolic of “turning the keys over to Jake,” acknowledging St. Louis was ready for him to be the club’s unquestioned No. 1.

Allen didn’t just struggle with the newfound responsibilities. He bombed. His struggles were seen by many as the reason Ken Hitchcock was handed his walking papers on Feb. 1, this after Hitchcock said Allen needed to “man up, and get better” before suggesting he was “locked up mentally.”

Then, the club took an unprecedented step in trying to unlock him.

Allen was given what amounted to a leave of absence to get things right. Calling it an opportunity to mentally “reset,” Armstrong decided to keep the 26-year-old home from a road trip (partly so Allen could spend time with his wife and newborn daughter, who arrived in January).

It’s easy to ID that as the turning point, and in some ways it was. But it was also much more complex.

The coaching change from Hitchcock to Yeo paid dividends. Hitch is notoriously tough on goalies, constantly tinkering with changes, and it certainly it seemed like he’d ground Allen down. The switch from Jim Corsi to Martin Brodeur as the Blues full-time goalie coach was also vital, something Yeo alluded to during the Minnesota series.

“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.”

The biggest surprise was the speed in which Allen turned it around. He caught fire in February, finishing with a .933 save percentage, then put forth an even better March as he vaulted the Blues back into playoff contention. He went 8-1-2 that month with two shutouts and an eye-popping .953 save percentage, form which he carried over to his now-unforgettable opening round performance against the Wild.

“We averaged 40 shots on goal per game,” Minnesota bench boss Bruce Boudreau lamented in the aftermath. “The goalie was obviously pretty good.”

Still, it’s easy to see why Allen was so disappointed following yesterday’s defeat. His numbers for the series did end up dipping (just a .909 save percentage against the Preds), and given the two teams virtually played each other even at 5-on-5, Allen was right in suggesting the whole thing was up for grabs.

But there’s also a very strong case to be made St. Louis wouldn’t have even been in the second round — heck, maybe not the playoffs entirely — if it wasn’t for Allen.

And for that, he deserves a ton of praise.

The Buzzer: Job of the Hutton

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Players of the Night

  • Carter Hutton has quietly been playing well when used (sparingly) by the St. Louis Blues, but he stepped into the spotlight on Saturday, guiding his team to a 2-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

The high-powered Jets fired 48 shots on goal in this one, yet none beat Hutton, who nabbed the ninth shutout of his solid career. The 31-year-old bumped his save percentage up to a whopping .949 so far in 2017-18. He set a Blues record in doing so.

  • On Friday, Jack Eichel collected a hat trick and an assist in a losing effort. Gabriel Landeskog upped the ante one night later – literally – by scoring three goals and two assists in a game his Avalanche managed to lose anyway.

As much attention as Nathan MacKinnon is grabbing (rightfully, as he added two goals to his impressive season so far), this marks the second hat trick of the season for Landeskog. Not bad with it still being 2017, and all.

This was a pretty nasty game between the Avalanche and Lightning, at least at times.

Some key highlights

Technically, you can spell overtime without Alex Ovechkin

(Ovechkin’s already in select GWG company.)

Shayne Gostisbehere scored both of Philly’s goals, but the antics between Wayne Simmonds and Ben Bishop were the real highlight here:

Speaking of Nathan MacKinnon, this is something else:

Mathew Barzal to Jordan Eberle a combination that torments Darcy Kuemper in overtime and Peter Chiarelli, always:

Finally, Jonathan Gibson flashes the glove in defeat:

Factoids

The Lightning keep piling up different milestones and accomplishments, with Mikhail Sergachev ranking among those today (as Tampa Bay won its seventh in a row):

The cold weather didn’t slow Erik Karlsson down (more on that outdoor game here):

Pekka Rinne‘s really been rattling off some milestones lately.

Scores

Oilers 3, Wild 2
Rangers 3, Bruins 2 (OT)
Blues 2, Jets 0
Islanders 4, Kings 3 (OT)
Hurricanes 2, Blue Jackets 1
Flyers 2, Stars 1 (OT)
Senators 3, Canadiens 0
Capitals 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
Penguins 4, Coyotes 2
Lightning 6, Avalanche 5
Predators 2, Flames 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Fight video: Brouwer makes Watson pay for Hathaway hit

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Austin Watson nodded with recognition after landing a questionable hit on Garnet Hathaway on Saturday, as he understood why Troy Brouwer demanded immediate retribution.

And, as you can see from the video above the headline, Brouwer got that bloody payback after beating Watson in a fight.

Watson (who isn’t that far removed from a two-game suspension) was ejected for his hit. It wasn’t the only nasty moment between the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames, either, as the toxic exchanges included Anthony Bitetto‘s ugly cross-check on Sam Bennett.

(Video or a GIF of Bitetto’s hit will be added if it becomes available.)

Some other penalties reduced some of the advantage for the Flames, but they ultimately still received serious man-advantage opportunities amid all of the violence, and they weren’t able to convert.

The best news is that Hathaway might end up being OK after a scary-looking check. He returned to the game during the third period.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Erik Johnson be suspended for ugly play on Namestnikov?

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Vladislav Namestnikov has been the Mikael Renberg equivalent on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Legion of Doom with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov for much of this season, complimenting those two scorers with strong work of his own.

The Lightning were lighting up the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, perhaps frustrating Erik Johnson and others. Whatever the explanation might be, it was a pretty ugly sight when Johnson slashed and then boarded Namestnikov, earning those two penalties plus a game misconduct.

Plenty of people believe that supplemental discipline would be merited for Johnson’s actions. For what it’s worth, “Names” did return to action in the third period. We’ve seen instances where players return only to be hurt anyway, so we’ll see if the nifty winger sees any delayed issues.

Johnson, 29, was suspended for two games by the NHL back in 2014, but has a generally clean history otherwise.

The Lightning ultimately ended up beating the Avalanche 6-5, as Nathan MacKinnon almost led a rally with two power-play goals.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Senators blank Canadiens in NHL 100 Classic

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One win, even in the frosty outdoors for the NHL 100 Classic, only means so much.

Still, the Ottawa Senators probably experienced some ice-cold relief on Saturday, beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 during a tightly defended outdoor bout.

It was 0-0 for much of the game until Jean-Gabriel Pageau tipped an Erik Karlsson shot for the first goal with about five minutes remaining in the second period. Bobby Ryan then capitalized on a rough Jonathan Drouin turnover to make it 2-0, while an empty-netter iced the icy evening for Ottawa.

For a night, it was a fun time, and Karlsson reminded us what all the fuss is about, as he logged a ridiculous 32:55 of ice time. And he seemed to be having a good time doing it.

This night laid the “Canadian” on thick, with Bryan Adams performing during the event, and Gary Bettman posing for photos with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

via Getty

Weird, but OK then.

Generally speaking, things haven’t been that OK for the Senators lately. Such headaches did surface during this frosty-mug-on-ice event, as owner Eugene Melnyk inspired a #Melnykout hashtag on Twitter, not to mention icy barbs like these.

Fair criticisms about the Sens’ bigger picture aside, Ottawa looked nice tonight, with Karlsson shining and Craig Anderson pitching a rare shutout outdoors (shutoutdoors)?

Carey Price generated some nice saves of his own, but couldn’t will Montreal to win in his 10th consecutive start. The Habs rarely got things going against the Senators, seen most easily in Ottawa’s 38-28 advantage in shots on goal.

Nights like these make a bigger impact on fans’ memories and bottom lines, but this marks consecutive wins for the Senators either way. Considering the fact that the Senators hadn’t put back-to-back wins together since they faced the Avalanche in two contests in Sweden, it might not be a big deal, yet it’s far better than the nothing they’ve been coming up with far too often lately.

Also

In other news from the event, Mario Lemieux’s “five goals, five different ways” was named as the NHL’s greatest moment, voted by fans:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.