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Five keys for Blackhawks vs. Blues, Game 7

by Amalie Benjamin / Chicago Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS -- Here it is, the first Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: the Chicago Blackhawks against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Monday. The Blackhawks have been able to stave off elimination for two consecutive games, coming back to tie the series at 3-3 after being down 3-1.

Here are five keys for Game 7:

1. Keep it together: The Blues have lost the past two games after being on the brink of moving on to the Western Conference Second Round. They couldn't close out the Blackhawks in a double-overtime Game 5 and lost after being ahead 3-1 in Game 6 in Chicago.

"It's frustrating," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "You obviously want to go in there and end the series when you have the chance, but we're in this situation now. Nothing you can do except deal with the task at hand."

Exactly.

St. Louis can't fall apart. The Blues need to remember what got them to the series lead they enjoyed after Game 4, and get back to that place and that game. They can't be cowed by the Blackhawks, by their history late in series, by their success of late.

The Blues have the talent to win this and close out the series, finally. But will they?

2. Go deeper: The Blues are the deeper team in the series, but they haven't exactly made use of that fact so far in the first six games, relying too heavily on the Vladimir Tarasenko line. They need to pick it up both offensively and defensively down the line, getting contributions from more than just Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Pietrangelo, each of whom have six points.

Combined, the three have scored eight goals. That's half of the Blues' total of 16.

As David Backes said tackling Game 7, "Whoever stays with their game the longest, and executes the most and sticks together as a group, is going to have the success. We're going to have a heck of an effort out of the 20 guys in the lineup tonight."

They'll need it.

3. Time for Toews: This is a sentence that seems unbelievable: Jonathan Toews has five assists in the first six games of the series but he has yet to score a goal. That's a problem for the Blackhawks.

"He's always a ticking time bomb," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I don't think you ever forget about him. He's a guy that you have to pay a lot of attention to and when he's not scoring, he's doing other things well.

"He's someone that you know is a big leader for their team. He's a guy who drives the bus for them, and we have to make sure that we make it as hard of a game as possible and try to rattle him the best we can."

4. Goaltending battle: The margins are usually slim in Game 7, where one mistake here or there can cost a team a series. If one of the goaltenders slips up, breaks, freezes for a second too long, that could end the season for one of the two teams.

So it will be up to Brian Elliott and Corey Crawford, who have each been very good in this series, to be at the absolute top of their games.

5. Changing history, or repeating it? Chicago's history says it should be the team that wins Monday. St. Louis's history says it should be the team that loses. The question will be whether the Blackhawks play up to their reputation, using their experience and confidence to come out on top, or whether the Blues conquer their demons and send Chicago back home for the summer.

"We feel like we haven't proven anything until we win this game," Shattenkirk said. "For us, Game 5 or Game 7, we'll take it in Game 7. I don't think we expected this series to be easy, we didn't expect it to be a four- or five-game series. Now we have an opportunity to have a really special night."

Or, as Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, "We feel our top players get better the bigger the setting, the bigger the situation. They respond to bigger challenges and make guys around them better."

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