Stu Cowan: Canadiens fortunate to have Allen in nets for playoff push

Habs backup goalie, who was named Beauchamp Trophy winner on Wednesday, played like a No. 1 when Carey Price went down with injuries.

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If the Canadiens didn’t already have a Jacques Beauchamp Trophy they would have had to invent a similar award this season for goalie Jake Allen.

The Canadiens announced Wednesday that Allen is this year’s recipient of the trophy, which goes to a member of the team who played a dominant role during the regular season without earning any particular honour. The award is voted on by members of the media who cover the Canadiens and the trophy is named in honour of the legendary Montreal sportswriter who died in 1988 at age 61. Doug Jarvis was the first winner of the trophy following the 1981-82 season.

Allen narrowly beat out Joel Edmundson for the trophy this season (both received nine first-place votes) with Corey Perry finishing a distant third with three first-place votes.

Allen got my first-place vote because the Canadiens would not have made the playoffs without him, earning the fourth and final spot in the all-Canadian North Division to set up a first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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GM Marc Bergevin acquired the 30-year-old Allen from the St. Louis Blues last September and signed him to a two-year contract extension worth US$5.75 million that runs through the 2022-23 season because he wanted an experienced, proven backup goalie for Carey Price. Instead, Allen became the Canadiens’ No. 1 goalie because of Price’s inconsistent play and injuries. Price has been sidelined since suffering a concussion on April 19, missing the final 13 games of the regular season. Before that, Price missed six games with a lower-body injury, suffering the concussion in only his second game back.

As a result, Allen ended up playing in 29 games — four more than Price — while posting an 11-12-5 record with a 2.68 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. Price had a 12-7-5 record with a 2.64 GAA and a .901 save percentage.

“At the start of the year, if you would have told me that, I would have probably laughed a little bit,” Allen said about playing more games than Price. “But, you know, that’s just the way hockey is. We’re a better team with Carey in our lineup … that’s just the way it is. It’s unfortunate that he’s had a couple of injuries and he’s working his way back. My job is to come in here and play a role that, whether he was healthy or not, was to support him and to support the team and fill his void when either he was having a rest or, in this case, he was injured.

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“So that was my objective all year long. Nothing really changed whether we were with Carey or without Carey. Just trying to give the boys a chance every night.”

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That’s exactly what Allen did — without a lot of help from “the boys.” In 19 of the games Allen played, the Canadiens scored two or fewer goals.

But Allen battled every night. He was like Brendan Gallagher in goalie pads during this crazy, condensed 56-game schedule. Allen played in 17 of 20 games during a 34-day span before being given the night off Wednesday with Cayden Primeau getting the start for the regular-season finale against the Edmonton Oilers and Charlie Lindgren dressing as the backup.

Price is expected to be ready to play when the playoffs start next week, so head coach Dominique Ducharme will have a decision to make on his starting goalie. Price will probably get the call but, unlike in previous seasons, the Canadiens’ fortunes won’t ride only on Price. Allen has proven he can do the job if needed.

Adjusting to a new team and a new city can be difficult during the best of times for an NHL player. Throw in a pandemic and this season has been a real challenge for Allen, who has taken everything in stride. Apart from his play on the ice, Allen has become a media favourite for his thoughtful and honest answers about himself and the team in video conferences during a season when journalists haven’t been allowed in the locker rooms. He has become a great spokesperson for the team.

“It definitely was difficult at the beginning, no question,” Allen said. “Just to be able to figure things out around the town, just little things away from the rink. I always said all year that the transition off the ice was probably harder than it was on the ice for me.”

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Allen’s wife and their two young daughters were with him in Montreal at the start of the season, but went back to their home province of New Brunswick in March because they are moving into a new house there. Allen said his life since arriving in Montreal last December has basically been eat, sleep, hockey and travel.

“Without the fans it’s been unfortunate,” he said. “You don’t get the whole, full Montreal experience. But envisioning the best, I can (get that experience) when the Bell Centre’s packed (and) wear the red jersey at home. But it’s been a fun first year.”

And it’s not over yet — thanks in large part to the backup goalie who really deserved an award.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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