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5 Keys: Blues at Stars, Game 7

Goalies, composure will decide which team reaches Western Conference Final

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues will play Game 7 of their Western Conference Second Round series Wednesday at American Airlines Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports). The series is tied 3-3 and the winner will head to the Western Conference Final to take on the winner of Game 7 between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators.

Here are 5 Keys for Game 7:

1. GOALS FOR GOALTENDERS

Kari Lehtonen. Brian Elliott. They have, in many of the games in this series, been the key. So who will pull it out in Game 7? Which goaltender will be better in the series-deciding game?

Lehtonen saved the Stars in the final minute of Game 6, and played a fairly solid game throughout. Elliott was replaced by Jake Allen in the first period, marking the third time in six games a goaltender was pulled. How will Elliott, confirmed as the starter by Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, bounce back from a game in which he allowed three goals, though it would be hard to fault him for a couple of them, as he takes on Game 7?

This factor easily could decide which team moves on and which one goes home.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm6: Lehtonen's late saves ensure Stars' win

2. KEEP YOUR COMPOSURE

Sometimes it's Game 7 that separates the good ones from the great ones, the nervous from the nerves of steel. So, with everything on the line for the Blues and Stars, it's time to see who is ready and who is not quite.

"You've got to get the butterflies out early, just get the nerves and have a couple good, hard shifts," Stars defenseman Jason Demers said. "The guys who have been here before know what it's about. It's just about enjoying it and enjoying it as a team."

And the Blues have been here recently, having just played a Game 7 in their first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"The unknown factors of a Game 7 are behind us," Blues captain David Backes said. "It's still one game for all the marbles. It's going to be even more magnified, each play, each mistake, or each glorious play that's made is going to be that much more critical to the outcome of the game. We all know that. We've been through it, and I think we played our best game in Game 7 of that Chicago series."

3. PLAY YOUR GAME

All series, the question has been which team can play most to its strengths. That will be at its most crucial in Game 7.

"We're a blue-collar team. We're really good at it," Hitchcock said. "We're going to have to bring our best blue-collar effort forward and, if we do it, then we're going to be in good shape, but it's got to be a great blue-collar effort."

The Stars need to play the offense-driven game that has gotten them to this point.

"They're very opportunistic and they have a great offensive talent over there," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "If we can play that tight, play a great defensive game tonight, we can establish our game."

Video: DAL@STL, Gm 6: Janmark, Fiddler score two quick goals

4. HOLD ON TIGHT

A lead hasn't exactly meant much in this series, or in these playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins watched the Capitals rally back from a 3-0 deficit on Tuesday, something the Stars almost allowed the Blues to do Monday.

And that's not the only time it has happened in this series, with teams building leads and then having to hold on for dear life, or with teams giving up those leads entirely. So, should the Stars or Blues be lucky enough to build up a lead of a couple of goals, hold on.

"Just the parity in the League. Everything's so tight," Demers said. "I think the clutching and grabbing makes it a little bit easier to hold onto a lead. You don't let anyone get into the house, but nowadays the transition in the game is so quick that you kind of don't have that, and you don't want to give teams power plays and give them momentum."

5. HOME ICE

Dallas is 1-2 in Dallas. St. Louis is 1-2 in St. Louis. Still, the Stars need to take advantage of the game being played in American Airlines Center, find a way to channel the crowd and the building and the comforts of home into a win. If they can't, this will be the last game played there until next season.

"I hope it's a big difference for Game 7," Ruff said. "I think our guys are excited to be here at home. The one thing we spent a lot of time talking about at the start of camp was [that] our goal for going into the year was to be a better team on home ice. And we accomplished that, and now we've got a game on home ice here in front of our fans that we deserve, we worked hard to get, and we want it to be a difference for us."

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