ST. LOUIS - Jake Allen and Brian Elliott have always been big-time competitors.
They both competed like hell to become No. 1 goaltenders in the NHL, and they competed with each other as they battled for starts between the pipes for the St. Louis Blues over the previous three seasons.
Tonight at 6 p.m. (FSMW, KMOX) - for the first time ever - Allen and Elliott will compete against each other in an NHL game, one that happens to matter an awful lot for both clubs.
"This will be fun," Allen said of facing his former teammate tonight. "It's a big game for both teams, so it will be fun to play 'Ells.' He's a great goalie and I've always said he's one of the best in the League. Points are crucial for both teams right now. Hopefully it will be a good game."
"I feel like we've battled in practice for many years against each other, trying to make a better save than the other guy," Elliott added. "It's pretty cool to be able to play against your friends, but at this time of the year, it's not so friendly anymore."
Last summer, the Blues traded Elliott to the Calgary Flames at the 2016 NHL Draft, acquiring a second-round draft pick (Jordan Kyrou) and a conditional third-round pick in 2018. The deal solidified Allen as the Blues' bonafide No. 1 goaltender, which was supported by a four-year contract extension that would keep Allen in St. Louis through the 2020-21 season.
Allen has rewarded the Blues with a 29-19-3 record, setting a new career-high in wins. He's also posted a 2.44 goals-against average, a .913 save-percentage and four shutouts. Allen has won seven of his last nine starts to help the Blues move into third in the Central Division and more-comfortably into the playoff picture.
Elliott, after a slow start to the season, had reeled off wins in 11 consecutive starts before losing to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. For the season, the former Blue is 23-14-3 with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .911 save-percentage.
Thanks in part to Elliott's recent success, the Flames have taken over the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and currently sit nine points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings, who are the first team on the outside of the playoff picture in the West.
Video: Allen, Elliott meet head-to-head for first time
"There's obviously some competition between the two, some healthy competition, when they were teammates," said Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo, who joined the Blues after Elliott was dealt to Calgary. "In the time I've gotten to know Jake, I'm quite certain there's a little bit of a personal side to it, but he's also much more aware of our situation, the game and the meaning of (tonight's) game. I'm sure that will be his focus."
The excitement of facing off against former teammates goes far beyond just the goalies. Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said he's looking forward to seeing Allen vs. Elliott tonight as well.
"They're both competitors, they've always been like that. I'm sure there's going to be a little friendly head-to-head there," Pietrangelo said. "It's exciting. And they've got (Troy) Brouwer over there, too. He's certainly going to make life miserable for me, too. It's always fun playing against guys you have a relationship with and kind of brings out the best in you a lot of the time. Guys will be ready to go."
The Blues and Flames have split the season series so far. Allen and the Blues won 6-4 with Chad Johnson between the pipes in Calgary on Oct. 22, while Elliott and the Flames beat the Blues 4-1 on Oct. 25 with Hutton in goal.
With a win tonight and a Nashville loss to San Jose, the Blues would further solidify their hold on third place in the Central Division and inch closer towards clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Calgary, meanwhile, is trying to avoid a three-game losing streak but are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games.
"We're in a dog fight here," Allen said. "We've got four teams battling for the last couple of spots, and we're all playing well. We're all winning games so nobody is making up any ground on each other."