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5 Keys: Blues at Sharks, Game 3

Successful forechecking, breakouts could tip scales for San Jose

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

SAN JOSE - The St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks play Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday at SAP Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.

Here are 5 Keys for Game 3:

1. BE SPECIAL

Special teams have been huge. The Blues went 1-for-2 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill in Game 1, winning 2-1. The Sharks went 2-for-5 on the power play and 6-for-6 on the penalty kill in Game 2, winning 4-0.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock warned his players the Sharks become more dangerous the longer they hold the puck on the power play, so his penalty killers were aggressive in Game 1 and kept the Sharks from setting up. The Sharks adjusted in Game 2 with more of a shoot-first mentality, forcing the Blues to back off.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Burns blasts one-timer PPG past Elliott

Expect more adjustments. Though the Sharks were perfect on the penalty kill in Game 2, they found things to tweak. They allowed five shots and a good scoring chance during a four-minute PK in the third period.

"There's still some quality looks there, especially on the power play they got, that we can clean up a little bit," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.

2. STAY COOL

Twice in St. Louis, DeBoer made sure to mention the Blues were among the most-penalized teams in the NHL. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said his team wouldn't "whine" for calls.

"I was just pointing out facts," DeBoer said. "Facts are, St. Louis takes penalties, and they take a whole lot of them, and they have all year. That's a fact, just like shots and power-play percentages and every other analytic out there. … The point was that they do that and we have to make them pay on the power play when they do, and we did that last game."

The problem for the Blues wasn't DeBoer's comments; it was frustration and a lack of discipline. Two penalties in particular bothered Hitchcock because they were reactionary.

"That's a sign that the other team has a little bit of an advantage," Hitchcock said. "They're making you react to anything happening on the ice."

3. GET IN

Each team wants to get in on the forecheck and grind in the offensive zone, but only one has done it consistently: San Jose.

The Sharks want to keep doing what they have been doing.

"That's what drives our offensive game: putting pucks in the right area, coming in with speed, taking the correct routes," Sharks forward Tommy Wingels said. "You've got to force teams to play in their 'D' zone, especially this kind of team."

The Blues need to attack more as a five-man unit, put pucks in better spots and take advantage if Sharks goaltender Martin Jones stays in his crease.

"It doesn't look like Jones is really coming out of the net much, so we've got to get those hard rims and force those D to have harder plays going back for those pucks," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We have to make sure that we're doing that when we have forwards going into the zone with speed. I think a lot of the times we were rushing to get the puck up the ice when we had guys changing. We have to make sure we have five guys on the ice and we're all in sync."

Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Jones denies Parayko, Schwartz

4. GET OUT

The other side of that is the Blues have struggled to exit their zone; the Sharks have excelled at exiting theirs.

"We've got to be cleaner getting out of our zone," Shattenkirk said. "We've got to value sometimes just rimming the puck and getting it up high and winning the battle up at the blue line rather than trying to make the cute little plays down low."

The Sharks have done a good job communicating and supporting, and will be on the lookout in Game 3 in case the Blues defensemen start pinching more often.

"I think they'll come probably a little bit harder," Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said, "and the 'D' will be a little more aggressive coming down the wall, try to establish that forecheck, which makes it that much more important for us to be sharp on the breakouts and make sure we get that puck out."

5. WATCH TARASENKO

Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko has 16 shot attempts in the series, five more than any of his teammates, and had a golden scoring opportunity early in Game 2 when he sprinted ahead, swiped the puck from Martin and broke in alone. But he doesn't have a point yet.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm4: Tarasenko opens scoring on breakaway

The Blues need him to produce; the Sharks need to keep him quiet. The longest Tarasenko has gone without a point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was three games. That was in the Western Conference Second Round against the Dallas Stars. He had two goals and three assists over the next two games.

"I think players like that are going to get opportunities, are going to get shots," Martin said. "It's just trying to front, make sure we're in front of those shots if we can and make sure we have guys as close to him as possible, not letting him have that time and space."

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