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Blues to start goalie Allen in Game 1 against Wild

by Louie Korac /

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jake Allen was named as the St. Louis Blues' starting goaltender for Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round Series on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, FS-N, FS-WI, FS-MW).

The 24-year-old, who has 1:07 of experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a relief appearance in Game 2 of the 2012 Western Conference Second Round against the Los Angeles Kings, has been in a strong 1-2 tandem with veteran Brian Elliott all season.

But Allen's play of late -- he was 5-1-1 in his past seven starts with a 1.14 goals-against average and .957 save percentage -- was a deciding factor for Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. Allen has given up two goals or fewer in his past seven starts and one goal or fewer in eight of his past 12.

"It’s his turn," Hitchcock said. "Both guys earned our healthy respect. We made the decision to go with Jake. He's going to play in Game 1.

"Jake got really hot down the stretch, which was good for us because we needed it. Just his overall development and the way he played in the last month, we want to give him a chance to go in the playoffs. Both guys earned the right to play in the playoffs, both guys need to stay sharp."

Allen, who was 22-7-4 with a 2.28 GAA, .913 save percentage and four shutouts during the regular season, said he continues to live in the moment.

"I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a good challenge," Allen said. "I've been working for this moment all year. To be able to get the start, it's going to be huge. I know we're all ready and excited to go. It feels like a long four-day break here.

"… I'm just looking forward to the challenge. Treat it like any other game. Don't get too high, don't get too low. Goals are going to go in, mistakes are going to happen. I'm not too worried about it. I think the experience I've had this year and throughout the games I've played in the NHL the last couple years are big."

Elliott, who was 26-14-3 with a 2.26 GAA, .917 save percentage and five shutouts in the regular season, will start as the backup for the Blues for the third time in the past four postseasons despite being an all-star this season.

Elliott backed up Jaroslav Halak in 2012 before Halak was injured against the San Jose Sharks in the first round. Elliott was the starter in the first round against the Kings in 2013 after Halak was injured again during the lockout-shortened regular season, and then last season the Blues traded for Ryan Miller, who played against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Two weeks ago I said one guy has had a great season and one guy has had a great last six weeks," Hitchcock said. "We opted to go with the guy who has had a great six weeks. It's a decision we couldn't be wrong with, to be honest.

"The goalie is just part of the mix right now. We got a lot of guys really looking forward to this, who are excited. It's going to be a lot of fun, we're looking forward to it. [Allen's] just one of many who will have a firsthand experience in the playoffs and it's good for us."

It's a situation that could change as the series moves along.

"Game 1 and everything is game-to-game at this time. Day-to-day," Hitchcock said. "The whole world is.

"I anticipate having one goalie, but if we have to make a change we'll make a change. I anticipate having one goalie."

Hitchcock broke the news Wednesday before the Blues practiced and goalie coach Jim Corsi spoke to the goalies, as has been the protocol the entire season.

"It was great," Allen said when he got the news. "It was a pretty cool feeling, to be honest. Definitely wouldn't be thinking I'd be starting Game 1 at the start of the year, but it's been whirlwind year for me and a whirlwind five years to get to this point. It's paying off."

Their teammates have maintained the confidence level in either goalie, and now that news is out of who is starting that opinion hasn't changed.

"I don't think anything really changes for us today," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We are confident with whoever goes in net, I don't think that was weighing on our minds. We've had some good practices here, we're going to go forward with Jake I guess, and that's fine by us.

"[Allen's] very calm in net. He just seems like a guy who enjoys these bigger games down the stretch. The Chicago games especially, he just seemed to step up and just enjoy the added pressure and that's the quality that's hard to find, especially in goalies. … He looks pretty confident in net right now and I don't think the magnitude of the game phases him. He had a little bump in the road earlier this year and I think that was good for him and he's kind of found a way to work through that and get back to his game."

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