ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues were supposed to be in a transition period this season, experimenting with young players after losing key veterans following their trip to the Western Conference Final last season. They improved enough after Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach on Feb. 1 to finish third in the Central Division.
The Blues were underdogs against the Minnesota Wild, who at one point this season were first in the Western Conference. However, St. Louis rode stellar goaltending from Jake Allen, a solid defensive effort and timely scoring to defeat the Wild in five games and advance to the Western Conference Second Round in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2001-02.
Here are 5 reasons the Blues advanced:
1. JAKE ALLEN STANDING TALL
Allen was the Blues' backbone.
He made 174 saves on 182 shots and finished with a 1.47 goals-against average and .956 save percentage. It's quite an improvement from two seasons ago, when Allen had a .904 save percentage in a six-game first-round loss to the Wild, then coached by Yeo.
Video: MIN@STL, Gm4: Allen gloves down Coyle's wrist shot
Allen was poised, was square to pucks and challenged shooters from all angles, heeding the advice from assistant general manager Martin Brodeur, the NHL's all-time leader in wins. Allen said he believes he still can improve.
"I've still got a long way to go," he said. "I have more to gain and I feel like I've been getting better … and I'd like to keep it going."
2. FIVE-MAN DEFENSE
The Blues allowed eight goals in the five-game series, an average of 1.6 per game. They did it with a defensive structure that forced the Wild to take most of their shots from the perimeter and outside the faceoff dots.
Minnesota outshot St. Louis 182-134 in the series, but the Blues five-man units clogged the middle of the ice and slowed Minnesota's potent transition game.
"We're coming back with five guys," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We're protecting the middle of the ice. I think they know that. If they want to keep shooting from there … we'll keep protecting the middle."
3. SOLID PENALTY KILL
Minnesota scored twice in 5-on-4 situations in Game 5, but for most of the series, the Wild's power play couldn't gain generate much.
The Blues' penalty-killers were 15-for-18 in the series and allowed two goals in 17 in 5-on-4 situations.
4. UNLIKELY SCORERS
Neither defenseman Joel Edmundson nor forward Magnus Paajarvi would be mistaken for forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who led the Blues in scoring this season, but Edmundson and Paajarvi each scored overtime goals against the Wild. Edmundson had two goals and led St. Louis with a plus-6 rating.
Video: STL@MIN, Gm5: Paajarvi slots home OT winner
Edmundson was a second-round pick (No. 46) in the 2011 NHL Draft and has been developed in the system. Paajarvi, acquired from the Edmonton Oilers on June 10, 2013, spent time with Chicago of the American Hockey League before earning his way back to St. Louis.
"At some point, I would say most players would pack it in or start thinking about other options," Yeo said of Paajarvi. "He's a high-character kid. Anyone who knows him knows that he's high character and he's very, very coachable."
5. ROAD WARRIORS
The Blues won all three games at Xcel Energy Center, continuing their late-season success away from home.
Since March 5, St. Louis is 12-1-1 in its past 14 games away from Scottrade Center and has outscored the opposition 42-21.