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Blues' Tarasenko more focused on winning than scoring

St. Louis' offensive leader has been held without a point in four games against Sharks

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko had seven goals and six assists in the first two rounds of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But the Western Conference Final has not gone nearly as well for the talented right wing, who has been held without a point in four games against the San Jose Sharks.

Game 5 is at Scottrade Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2.

Tarasenko was fourth in the NHL during the regular season with 40 goals, but he has not been that same player as the postseason has gone along.

That was what caused Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to issue a sharp criticism of the talented goal scorer after a 3-0 loss in Game 3 on Thursday. He said that Tarasenko needs playoff seasoning to get better. Those lessons are being taught now, and many of them have been painful.

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What Tarasenko needs, according to Hitchcock, will come when he understands what it requires to score at this time of year against a team committed to playing defense in the hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

"I think all teams [are] difficult," Tarasenko said Monday when asked if the Sharks are playing him any differently than the Chicago Blackhawks or Dallas Stars in the first two rounds. "The main part is to stay on your game and just work hard. Goals and points will come. But if our team wins, it means we're all on the same page and we're all doing good right now."

Tarasenko said his plan was to listen to the Blues coaching staff and do what they tell him to do.

But so far that hasn't worked. So far he has gone four games without a point and has looked increasingly ineffective.

Though the Blues won 6-3 in Game 4, Tarasenko's contribution was one shot on goal in 16:14 of ice time.

His best chance in Game 4 came with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first period and the Blues leading 2-0. Forward Robby Fabbri carried the puck to the net and deked Sharks goalie Martin Jones to the ice. He left the puck in the crease and Tarasenko had a mostly empty net to shoot at, but Sharks defenseman Brent Burns dove across to get a piece of the shot with his stick.

"Sometimes you score, sometimes you don't," Tarasenko said. "You can't score every game. So at the same time you need to help your team. You can be a factor. That's what I try to do. I believe it's coming if you just don't think about it."

Perhaps there have been improvements for Tarasenko even though the goals have not come, even though he has not made an impression on the stat sheet.

"I think he just has to stay with it," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think last game he made a lot of good plays away from the puck that we hadn't really seen him doing, plays like driving the middle on a rush. His forechecking was a lot better. Just those little things that, in turn, you always end up at the right place at the right time and those goals start to come."

Said Jaden Schwartz, Tarasenko's usual linemate, "Sometimes it's just how it goes. You feel like you're getting chances, you're creating stuff and sometimes it just doesn't go in. So I think it's just one of those things where if he gets one, whether it's a rebound or something, it gives you a little bit more confidence and you find they start going a little bit easier."

The Blues need that from Tarasenko. They need anything from Tarasenko. They have done enough to win two games in the series without much production from their top scorer. But they need him in this series, and will need him even more should they reach the Final.

To Tarasenko, though, what's important right now are two more wins.

"It's that time of year when you trade your goals to reach a goal and win a Cup," he said. "It's not the time to think about your goals."

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