HAZELWOOD, Mo. - Jake Allen will start Game 1 when the first-round series between the Blues and Minnesota Wild begins on Thursday night.
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock made his 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.”
Allen finished the regular season with 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 wrap up the Central Division title.
Starting 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.
“I’ve learned a lot, I’ve watched a lot,” Allen added. “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. I’ve played Minnesota a couple times, so I feel familiar with them now and it should be fun.”
Allen finished the regular season as the NHL’s winningest rookie, going 22-7-4. He joins Wayne Stephenson (1972-73) and Mike Luit (1979-80) as the only Blues rookie goaltenders to lead the NHL in wins.
Since Feb. 1, Allen ranked third in the League with a .750 win-percentage (8-2-2) and second in goals-against average (1.79). Against the Wild this season, Allen was 1-0-0 with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .920 save-percentage.
Hitchcock says he has no concerns about starting a rookie in the postseason.
“He’s been in this stage before,” Hitchcock said. “He played in the playoffs in the American (Hockey) League, World Junior Gold Medal games, he knows this stage. Nothing is going to shock him or surprise him. We had a lot of big games at the end and he stood tall, so that’s even more confidence in him on our part.”
“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.”