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Jake Allen an amazing comeback story for Blues

04/29/2017, 11:00am CDT
By Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

ST. LOUIS -- Comeback stories are fairly commonplace in the NHL. But we don't often see one like this.

Not one when a player, a goalie no less, is given what amounts to a leave of absence from his team so he can get his game and his head together, and that player proceeds to return and become one of the best players in the NHL.

No, what St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen is doing is rare. It might be unprecedented.

Allen continued his extraordinary journey Friday, preserving a crucial 3-2 win against the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round at Scottrade Center. 

The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 at Nashville on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).

Allen took the blame for the Blues loss in Game 1 because he missed a poke check on Predators forward Vernon Fiddler, allowing him to score the winning goal through Allen's legs with 5:05 left in the third period and nullifying a two-goal, third-period comeback.

"Guys fought back great," Allen said after Game 1. "A little mistake by me cost us."

In the third period of Game 2, Allen stopped 14 of 15 shots, none more important or impressive than a save off a James Neal one-timer from the slot with 38 seconds left.

"I thought I played really well last game besides that last goal," Allen said. "I really did, and I felt that I've been playing well throughout the playoffs. I just made a little mistake and I wanted to make up for it for the boys.

"If you can't forget it you're in some world of hurt. It's a goal. I've let in a lot of [bad] goals in my life."

Yes, those bad goals appeared like they might derail Allen's entire season - if not his career - about three months ago.

On January 10, 12 and 19, Allen was pulled in three straight starts. He allowed 10 goals on 36 shots and the Blues went to the extraordinary measure of keeping Allen at home for a one-game road trip to Winnipeg to give him an opportunity to clear his mind and fine tune his game.

Speculation was swirling around the NHL that Allen would never find it again, that this was a turning point for him that he may never return from. His next start was Jan. 31 and it did not go much better. He allowed four goals on 23 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

That loss would turn out to be a pivotal one for Allen and the Blues.

Coach Ken Hitchcock and goalie coach Jim Corsi were fired the next day, replaced by Mike Yeo and Martin Brodeur, respectively.

From that point on, Allen had a 16-7-2 record with a .938 save percentage and 1.85 goals-against average, and he has a .941 save percentage with a 1.89 GAA in his first seven games of these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He is, to put it simply, one of the best players in the world right now.

"I think once [Yeo] came in and we changed our defensive system a little bit, once Marty kind of took over and started communicating with [Allen] and [backup Carter Hutton], and once he got in his comfort zone and got his confidence he just kind of went with it," center Paul Stastny said. "He just seems a lot more controlled. He's an athletic goalie, but he's only athletic when he needs to be now. In the past sometimes he was maybe a little overaggressive, where now I think he can make the first save and rely on us clearing that puck."

Yeo was an assistant to Hitchcock before taking over as coach so he saw first-hand what Allen went through, how hard it was for him to struggle so badly, and it hurt because he also saw how hard Allen worked to get out of it, and how none of it was working.

No one would ever want to go through something like that. 

But the Blues are benefiting from Allen's experience because, in a sense, what happened in Game 1 and how Allen bounced back in Game 2 was like a microcosm of his season, and maybe it doesn't turn out the way it did if he never had the difficulties he had in January.

"When we were going through that he was shouldering a lot of the blame, probably most of the blame, and we were all part of it," Yeo said. "But he took it, the same way he took it last game, and that, to me, is what winners do. 

"I think that was an important part of his growth as a starting goaltender and a big reason why he's playing to the level he is right now and a big reason why he can respond after a game like last game."

Allen is back, but the full comeback story has not yet been written. Not if he has anything to do with it.

He would much rather have it end in June with a Stanley Cup being raised above his head.

 

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