Until Jake Allen turned the Twin Cities into a surreal Twin Peaks on Wednesday night, the best postseason performance I’d seen from a Blues goaltender occurred during the 1993 NHL playoffs, when Curtis Joseph protected his territory like a rabid dog, living up to his “CuJo” nickname. The scene: the old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, a classic setting for a spectacular show. The Leafs rattled Cujo’s cage, but couldn’t shake his confidence. He was better than the movie.
In the first two games of the best-of-seven series, the Maple Leads pelted and peppered Joseph with 121 shots. He rejected 118 of ’em. Stand on his head? No … but I think Joseph may have competed with extra appendages.
That’s a .975 save percentage over two steamy hellacious nights in a stiflingly hot hockey cathedral.
Has anyone faced as many shots and lived to tell about it?
Maybe Suge Knight.
That’s the best I can come up with.
Joseph made 61 saves on 63 shots in Game 1. The bloodied goaltender had to withdraw from action for a brief time in the first OT after the Leafs’ Mike Foligno accidentally opened a cut — with his skate! — on Joseph’s jaw.
The deepest cut was Doug Gilmour’s winning goal 3 minutes into the second OT. Despite Joseph’s Heroes of Hockey tribute, the Blues lost 2-1.
In Game 2, the STL and Toronto had another protracted battle that raged into a second OT. This time, with Cujo stopping 57 of 58 shots, the Blues headed to the USA-Canada border with a 2-1 victory.
“You don’t have to know much about Curtis Joseph to know he’s really special,” Blues coach Bob Berry said after the win. “He’s an exceptional young man. He played a great game.”
Joseph was 25 years old at the time, still early in a 19-season career.
Allen, 26, is still in the building phase of his career. Wednesday’s start in Game 1 at Minnesota was only the ninth postseason start of his career. This was one to remember, treasure and savor. Allen was sensational and unbreakable, blocking 51 of 52 shots in acts of repeated resistance to veto the Wild’s frantic bid for a successful Game 1.
The Blues survived for a 2-1 overtime conquest — there’s that score again — only because Allen pulled off the greatest heist in Minnesota since 1989, when three masked robbers made off with a Brinks Truck in Eden Prairie. They got away with an estimated $1 million. The crime remains unsolved.
The Blues got away with one too.
But this stickup was the work of one masked man, and Allen was easily identifiable.
Allen: guilty of excellence on all counts.
The Wild absolutely, positively, unquestionably dominated the opening night of this best of seven, first-round series. The Wild outshot the Blues 52-26, channelled 90 shots toward the St. Louis net, won 59 percent of the faceoffs, forced 15 turnovers, and outhit the Blues 35-18.
In normal circumstances, Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau and his players would happily take that performance and repeat it every time they take the ice. For the love of Gump Worsley, the Wild outshot the Blues 42-17 after the halfway mark of the first period. “If we stick to that game, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk told reporters. “That’s why it’s a seven-game series.”
The circumstances were abnormal. For only the second time in Blues franchise history, the Blues won a playoff game despite being bombarded with 50+ shots on goal. Allen brought back memories of CuJo.
When asked to name his favorite Allen save in Game 1, Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson, who scored the winning goal, said this: “I can’t count them on both hands. He made about 20 remarkable saves.”
In one sense, Allen’s brilliance was surprising in terms of pure volume. You just don’t see this very often — a goaltender making 51 saves to snatch a postseason win. Over the last five postseasons, only two goalers have made more than 51 saves to purloin a playoff game: Chicago’s Corey Crawford (60 saves) to beat Anaheim in 2015; Boston’s Tuukka Rask (53 saves) to topple Pittsburgh in 2013
But given the way Allen has played since the Big Coaching Change how surprising was it? Not very. In his last 26 starts (including Game 1) since Feb. 2, Allen has a platinum-quality save percentage of .941. He’s given up no more than a goal in 12 of the 26 games. And two or fewer goals in 18 of the 26. As a team the Blues are yielding 1.85 goals per game since Mike Yeo’s Feb. 1 promotion to head coach … which includes an absurdly low average of 1.52 even-strength goals allowed per game.
This will likely be a long series. Minnesota is outstanding. Losing the first game won’t cause the Wild to shrink away. And the Blues will have to come up with a substantially better all-around performance as this series trudges forward. They can’t count on multiple miracles from Allen. He’s a fighter, yes. Look at how he fought back from a lousy first half of the season. Jake Allen was Jake LaMotta. He came off the ropes. The toughness is there.
As you know, there’s a time-honored cliche on playoff hockey: for an underdog team to survive and prevail, their goaltender must steal a game, maybe two, in a series.
Allen pilfered the series opener. And based on the NHL history for first-round action, a road team that takes Game 1 in a best of seven format has gone on to win the series 54 percent of the time. So the Blues have an advantage, if however slight.
Allen’s work is far from done; he’ll have to play strong the rest of the way. But with his boys being swarmed and trapped by the Wild all night, Allen came up with a mandatory steal. Allen grabbed the money in Game 1, and slipped the winnings in his pocket. He put the Blues — and maybe even a Brinks Truck — on his back.
Thanks for reading …