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Blues know what it takes to avoid elimination

St. Louis turns to goalie Elliott in crucial Game 6 in San Jose on Wednesday

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues have been here before. They know what facing elimination is like heading into Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Wednesday (9:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) down 3-2 with their season on the line. 

The Blues won Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 and Game 7 against the Dallas Stars 6-1. Now, having lost Game 5 of the conference final at home, they need to win Game 6 to stay alive.

So, while this isn't exactly optimal and it certainly isn't comfortable, it is familiar for the Blues.

The Blues have forced this situation on themselves throughout the playoffs. They were unable to close the Blackhawks out in Games 5 and 6 in the first round, and the Stars in Game 6 in the second. The Blues could have made it easier, gained some rest and avoided some bruises, but they didn't.

The hope now is that they learned some things in those brutal do-or-die moments, things that they can put into place when they play the Sharks on the road in a game that is a must-win. They have won twice in elimination games this postseason. To get to the Stanley Cup Final, they will have to win two more.  

So what have they gleaned?

"I think it's patience and positioning," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When you're patient in your positioning offensively and defensively, then the game seems to come to you a little bit better. When you get amped up and you're trying to hit the home run early, you're giving up odd-man rushes and stuff like that.

Video: Pavelski scores twice as Sharks take 3-2 series lead

"To me, what we've learned over time, is that the game is a two-and-a-half-hour game. It's 60 minutes. It's a long evening. And if we play it like a long evening, good things are going to happen. It took us 53 minutes to get Chicago to crack and I said this last night, if we extend his game as a one-goal game either way long into the night, I like our chances."

Hitchcock said the idea is not to get too worked up and not to trade scoring chances. That usually doesn't work, not for the visiting team. And it doesn't work for the Blues.

"I think not getting away from our system is a big thing," St. Louis defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "Just playing our way. We've seen that in games. As soon as we get away from it, it's not working for us. We just have to stick together and keep reminding ourselves that whatever we do when we're playing well, you've got to keep doing it. Believe in what we do."

Because it's worked. It's worked in this situation. It's worked against two of the top teams in the Western Conference. So why wouldn't it work again?

"I think we've shown throughout this season and throughout these playoffs that we never give up," Gunnarsson said. "We keep on coming, no matter if we're down, if we're up. We never give up. There's still a chance.

"If we take this one [on Wednesday], we bring it back home, the ball is in our court again. We all believe in ourselves. Whatever happens, people will say the Blues in 2016 were a team that never gave up."

The Blues certainly had the chance to prove that through the resilient regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. They have put themselves in these situations before, and it has worked out.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm5: Brouwer swats home goal for the lead

"Elimination games are elimination games," Blues forward Alexander Steen said. "I liked the way we played in the two previous ones, simplified. A lot of desperation. And that's what we'll need tomorrow."

Of course, in those previous games, the Blues had at least one position that they felt they could absolutely count on: Goaltender. The Blues were riding Brian Elliott, and he was providing exactly what they needed him to provide. That hasn't exactly been the case in the Western Conference Final, with the Blues opting to pull Elliott in Game 3, a 3-0 loss in San Jose, and starting Jake Allen in Games 4 and 5.

But Elliott will start Game 6 with everything on the line.

"I just feel for me like Brian was the guy," Hitchcock said. "We needed the jolt from Jake. We got it to get back in the series. Unfortunately we didn't get the win [on Monday], but this has been Brian's playoffs and we'd like him to finish the job."

Or he'd like him to get the win in Game 6 to give the Blues a chance to come back home for a Game 7 with a chance to do it all over again.

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