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5 Keys: Blues at Sharks, Game 6

Special teams could decide winner; St. Louis needs more from Tarasenko

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

SAN JOSE -- The St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks play Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday at SAP Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Sharks lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

Here are 5 Keys for Game 6:

1. BREAK THROUGH

After their 6-3 loss in Game 4, the Sharks pointed to human nature. They were trying to take a 3-1 lead and the Blues were trying to avoid a 3-1 deficit, and the Sharks said the Blues simply were more desperate.

The Sharks want to avoid something similar happening again.

Win, and they will make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. They will do it in front of their long-suffering fans and be able to rest while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning battle in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Lose, and San Jose will have another chance in Game 7 on Friday. But they will face elimination on the road and the possibility of yet another disappointment in a long history of them.

"It'd be huge," Sharks forward Joe Thornton said of clinching a Cup Final berth in front of the home fans. "They've been waiting for this for a long time. Hopefully we can do it for them."

Video: SJS@STL, Gm5: Pavelski redirects puck for second goal

2. SETTLE DOWN

After battling for 82 regular-season games and 19 playoff games, the Blues are two wins from their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970 and one loss from elimination. They don't want their effort to go to waste.

"It's exciting," Blues forward Kyle Brodziak said. "It's a little scary. It's every emotion you can imagine."

The good news is that they are 2-0 facing elimination in these playoffs. The bad news is that they were too anxious at times in Game 5, coughing up the puck, getting caught out of position, making mistakes in a 6-3 loss at home. They have to manage their emotions and manage the puck well.

"Let the play come to us," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Let them make the mistakes. When we're positionally strong, we're the best in our own end. We're not chasing to make plays. Simple all over the ice seems to be the most effective for us, and that's what we're going to need."

Video: STL@SJS, Gm3: Elliott denies Hertl on the doorstep

3. FEEL THE ENERGY

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock explained why he replaced Brian Elliott with Jake Allen in goal for Games 4 and 5 in a couple of different ways. He said the Blues were relying on Elliott, not playing for him. He said Elliott was fatigued, Allen fresh.

Elliott does have an athletic style. It can take a lot of energy if the Blues are standing around watching while he stands on his head.

With Elliott back in the net for Game 6, the Blues need to play better in front of him, and he needs to be energized by either the rest or the benching.

Elliott has been an underdog his entire career, from being picked in the ninth round (No. 291) by the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 NHL Draft, to battling with Allen, Jaroslav Halak and Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur in St. Louis. Here's yet another chance to prove something.

"We needed to change it," Hitchcock said. "We got the change. Unfortunately, we lost the last game, but we got the necessary change. Now it's [Elliott's] series to win."

Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Burns finishes Pavelski's feed for PPG

4. TAKE YOUR SHOT

Special teams have been a huge factor in this series. They helped the Blues win Games 1 and 4. They helped the Sharks win Games 2 and 5.

The marquee matchup remains the Sharks power play vs. the Blues penalty kill. The Blues want to be aggressive to keep the Sharks from setting up, because the longer they hold the puck in the offensive zone, the more dangerous they become. So the Sharks want to shoot to back them off.

"When you shoot the puck on the power play, it breaks the kill down," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "When I'm out there killing penalties, you stop and you watch to see where it goes. When you're on the power play, you usually moving and getting it and recovering it."

The Blues have to counter that by filling shooting lanes and winning retrievals.

"We've got to outwork them on those," Blues forward Alex Steen said. "Even though we're down a man, outnumber them at the puck and force that puck down the ice and make them work on their breakout."

Video: The Blues' Tarasenko continues to Struggle

5. SHORTEN THE LEASH

Obviously the Blues want more out of forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who had 40 goals and 34 assists in the regular season and seven goals and 13 points in the first two rounds of the playoffs. He has zero points in this series.

It will be interesting to see what happens with his ice time in Game 6. If he isn't scoring, he at least has to skate, work and play the right way.

Hitchcock won't be patient with anyone with the season on the line.

"There's a short leash for us," Hitchcock said. "We can't wait and hope. If we have to shorten the bench, we'll shorten the bench. We're going to do whatever it takes to make sure we got the right people on the ice. We're not hoping that a guy's a worker or that a guy is going to play well and execute. …

"That goes for everybody. This is the time for us that we got to go with the guys that are going at this time. We can't waste any energy on past reputation or regular season or what you did a week ago. It's what you're going to do tonight. That's got to be our attitude."

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