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Five keys for Blackhawks vs. Blues, Game 6

St. Louis looking for series-clincher, but battle-tested Chicago has other ideas

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues play Game 6 of their Western Conference First Round series Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports 2). The Blues lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

Here are five keys for Game 6:

1. Show it's different: Three years in a row, the Blues put themselves in position to advance in the first round and failed to close it out. In 2013, they took a 2-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings and lost four straight. In 2014, they took a 2-0 series lead against the Blackhawks and lost four straight. Last year, they were tied 2-2 with the Minnesota Wild and lost back-to-back games. They had a 3-1 lead in this series before losing Game 5 in double overtime.

"The last three years, it's felt different," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "At least in the past, we were just worried about losing, it seemed like. And here, we're hungry for the opportunity to win and close out a series. I think playing against the Blackhawks in this series was good for us, because they're the team that really brings out the best in us. It's what we needed early on to kind of get us into playoff mode and kind of focus on the games."

Video: CHI@STL, Gm5: Ladd bundles Backes in neutral zone

2. Scratch and claw: The Blackhawks aren't the same team in terms of depth this season, but they're still the Blackhawks, the team that has won three Stanley Cups since 2010 and doesn't go down easy. Only once since 2010 has a team not needed overtime of Game 7 to eliminate Chicago: the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012. Under coach Joel Quenneville, the Blackhawks are 44-15 in Games 4-7 of a series and 12-4 facing elimination. They are 14-1 in Game 6 situations, including 6-1 at home.

"We try to get better every game and rise to the challenge," Quenneville said. "Our top players like the big stage, and they feel that the bigger the moment, they meet it head on. They get better as well, and they make the guys better around them."

3. Finish: Puck possession increases your odds, but weird things happen in hockey. In each game of this series, the team with the most shots on goal has lost. Blues center Paul Stastny doesn't have a point in this series. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has three assists but no goals. Quenneville put together Toews and Patrick Kane in Game 5, with Richard Panik on the left wing. Expect Andrew Shaw, back from a one-game suspension, in that spot in Game 6.

"Shawsie gets to the net and can make plays," Quenneville said. "If he can hang around there, maybe he can get some production offensively."

Video: STL@CHI, Gm4: Keith gives Blackhawks their first lead

4. Don't bother: Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (31:04) and Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (31:00) lead the playoffs in average ice time among skaters who have appeared in more than one game. That's partly because of overtime work. That's mostly because they're workhorses. Don't try to wear them down. Get out of position going for a hit, and they'll burn you.

"It's a complete waste of time," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think the players nowadays, with the mobility they have and the way that they train, I think players actually look forward to playing 30 minutes a game, especially the elite ones. I think there's times quite frankly when you play them 22, 23 minutes, they get bored."

5: Outlast your opponent: This series has been tied or within one goal 94.5 percent of the time. Nine of the last 11 playoff games between these teams, including all five games of this series, have been decided by one goal. Six of the nine one-goal games needed overtime, and the Blues and Blackhawks split the six OT games.

"We know we've got to play a 60-minute game and outlast your opponent," Blues captain David Backes said. "It's every wall battle, every faceoff. Every little thing is magnified and really counts. That's how tight these games have been."

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