ST. LOUIS - Tonight might be Jake Allen’s first NHL playoff start, but he’s no stranger to postseason hockey.
Allen played 29 playoff games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He won a Gold Medal and was named MVP at the 2008 U-18 World Junior Championships, and he won a Silver Medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships.
“I’ve learned a lot, I’ve watched a lot,” Allen said. “I’ve been around people and associated with people that will pay off. Some guys have a lot more playoff experience than I do, but (there’s) a lot of big games I’ve played in, and I’ve felt every single game for me in the NHL is a big game.”
Tonight’s Game 1 (8:30 p.m., FSMW, NBCSN, KMOX) will be another big one for Allen, but he’s proven he’s ready for it. In critical games down the stretch, Allen has gone eight consecutive games giving up two goals or fewer. In April, he went 3-1-0 with a League-leading 1.01 goals-against average and a .964 save-percentage. In addition, Allen earned two big 2-1 victories against the Chicago Blackhawks over his final three games to help the club wrap up the Central Division title.
Starting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a moment Allen says he’s been looking forward to since he was a kid.
“It was a pretty cool feeling to be honest,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t think I’d be starting Game 1 at the start of the year. It’s been a whirlwind year for me and took five years to get to this point. It’s paying off.”
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock made his goalie decision public after the team’s practice Wednesday at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall.
“It’s a decision we couldn’t be wrong with, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said. “Jake has gotten really hot down the stretch, which was really good for us because we needed it, but just his overall development, and then the way he played in the last month, we wanted to give him a chance to go in the playoffs.”
“It’s been quite the year for me, a little bit of ups and downs,” Allen said. “I found myself and found my game. Now I get an opportunity…I’m excited for the chance.”
So what’s it like to walk out of the locker room for the big game and see nearly 20,000 people on their feet, waving rally towels and cheering?
“I can’t explain it to you. You need to feel it,” Vladimir Tarasenko said. “It’s unreal.”
The Blues expect a packed house tonight, and the energy the fans create is definitely something the players feel on the ice.
“It’s exciting,” Alexander Steen said. “Obviously you get ramped up. The tempo, the atmosphere, the temperature, everything gets ramped up in the playoffs.
“It’s a fun time.”
Here are the projected lines based on the morning skate. Subject to change without notice, obviously. It’s the playoffs.
Jaden Schwartz - Paul Stastny - T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Patrik Berglund
Steve Ott - Marcel Goc - Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester - Zbynek Michalek
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Lehtera and Jaskin will be playing in their first career Stanley Cup Playoff game. In fact, Lehtera has only seen ONE NHL playoff game in his life. So what advice would Kevin Shattenkirk give to get ready? “Just have fun,” he said. “The nerves will be there early, but get your first couple shifts in…from that point, you’ll start to get comfortable.”
The Blues and Wild have never met in the postseason but the Blues and Minnesota have - the two cities faced off nine times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the North Stars played in Minnesota.
Paul Stastny leads all current Blues with 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 22 postseason games. Ten of those 18 points came against Minnesota in the first round last season.
Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk is 2-1-0 against the Blues since being traded to Minnesota. Over the last two meetings though, the Blues have scored six times on 43 shots (.860 save-percentage).
The Game 1 Rally begins at 5 p.m. outside Scottrade Center at the Clark Avenue Plaza. The rally features live music from Carrie & the Catapults and food from Pappy’s Smokehouse and Strange Donuts. Doors open at 7 p.m. and fans are encouraged to be in their seats early for the playoff pregame show.