By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Arguably one of the most important days in Blues history has arrived, and for Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn, it was just a regular night before.
"Yep, I slept fine," Schwartz said.
"I did. Great. Just a quick nine hours," center Schenn said. "I feel good."
This is the attitude the Blues have taken for months, and it's going to be tough, but it's one they will take into a potential series-clinching Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).
The Blues, with a chance to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970, are approaching this game as just another game. It's anything but that, but the Blues have been facing these sorts of games since, oh, Jan. 3. That's why they can take such a simple mental approach.
"We've just got to focus on us," Schwartz said. "Obviously everyone's excited, but there's a lot of work to be done yet, so we've just got to approach it the same way like we've been doing all playoffs.
"... Good leadership by our players, our coaches and that's our job is to just get ready and play. You don't want to overthink things, overthink the game. Just enjoy it and enjoy the opportunity."
It doesn't mean the Blues, who are 2-0 in series-clinching scenarios this postseason, shouldn't embrace the situation.
"I think everybody does," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "As cliche as it sounds, you grow up wanting these opportunities to want to play in these games in the playoffs and here we are, it’s our third time we have a chance to do this, especially on home ice. It’s a big moment for us. We obviously know what’s at hand here, but no one has really talked about it in the locker room. We’re just going out there getting ready to do our business."
The Blues, who finished the regular season 30-10-5, have been doing their business now for four-plus months, and maybe Blues interim coach Craig Berube taking down the standings inside the locker room to be a stark reminder of where they were helped.
"Do I remember doing that? I could have done it, I'm not sure," Berube said with a smile. "Probably why I took it down, because it didn't look very good at the time.
"Where we were at and to get where we had to get to, it's a long process and to see that every day, it doesn't change quick enough. It's just a negative effect."
Players remember it vaguely.
"I don't remember the day but I do remember it not being up there," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "... I remember seeing it and liking that ... the standings board, there's so much stuff you can't control. All that really matters is the next game that you play and how much you can engage yourself into it. That's the only way you can do it. We aren't here because we looked at the beginning of the year and said, 'OK, this is where we want to be able to be in this position and win a Stanley Cup.' We're here because we kept working. We took it kind of game by game and when we struggled, we kept working. Even in these playoffs, it's the same thing. We're taking it one game at a time. So we're looking at tonight, it's the most important game and the only one that matters."
And what the Blues would like to get tonight is a good, quick, solid start.
"Have a good start to the game obviously," Berube said. "I think that's a big key for us in the first period is having a good start, getting our legs under us. Good energy. Play our game as quickly as possible."
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The Blues won't care what the Sharks, 4-0 in elimination games in this postseason, look like when they line up, but it will not be the same lineup that started Game 5.
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer announced that center Tomas Hertl and defenseman Erik Karlsson will not play tonight and captain Joe Pavelski will be a game time decision.
Hertl did not play the third period Sunday after be collided with Blues center Ivan Barbashev midway through the first period. There were some calling for a suspension for Barbashev, claiming he hit Hertl high, but it was more a simultaneous collision. The league did not feel there was nothing suspension or fine-worthy on the play.
There's a good chance Dylan Gambrell will replace Hertl in the lineup.
"Obviously it’s a big game, do or die, but I think you just kind of have to go out and play," Gambrell said of his second playoff game. "Can’t overthink it. Go and skate, win battles, do the little things that we need to do to win a game."
Karlsson labored all through Game 5 and did not return for the third period. He has had lingering groin and leg issues going back to January. The Blues have been pounding on him physically throughout this series. He will likely be replaced by Tim Heed.
"Well, this is what I’ve been waiting for, to get a chance," Heed said, who's played in two previous playoff games. "Like last time, when I got to play against Vegas in the first round, just try to be prepared all the time and prepare for every game, no matter if I’m playing or not. Doing the same things, so just trying to stay ready."
Pavelski left after playing just under a minute of ice time in the third period when he was checked by Pietrangelo. He's on the trip and has a decent chance to play.
"We know the importance of him, all three of those guys are important guys," DeBoer said. "If we have them, great. If we don’t, then next man up and we have to find a way to get the job done.
"Do you need to say anything? You’re getting a chance to play in the conference final and win a game and get it to a Game 7 at home. I mean, it’s an unbelievable opportunity. These guys are hockey players. There isn’t a lot of conversations. The one thing I can tell you, we’ve relied on our depth all year. We played without Pavelski for 6 of the 7 games against Colorado, 'Jumbo' [Joe Thornton] got suspended, we played without him. Erik Karlsson has been whatever percentage the whole time. This isn’t new to our group. We have depth and guys I know can get in there and get the job done."
That's why the Blues will take the approach they've always taken.
"No, we're not sure what their lineup's going to look like, but it doesn't affect our game plan and what we have to do," Schwartz said. "We know we're going to get their best game."
And rest assured, Berube and his coaching staff will not plan any differently.
"Not really," he said. "We're not going to change the way we have to take this game and how we have to play and the urgency we need and the desperation we need to win the game. It doesn't matter who's in the lineup for them. They're going to be a desperate, hungry team for sure. We can't change anything. We've got to be ready no matter what. We need lots of urgency in this game. It's hard to close a team out."
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* Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has seven points (two goals, five assists) in a five-game point streak in the conference final.
* Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is one win from becoming the seventh rookie goalie in NHL history with at least 12 wins in a postseason (record is 15, co-held by Patrick Roy of Montreal in 1986; Ron Hextall of Philadelphia in 1987, Cam Ward of Carolina in 2006 and Matt Murray of Pittsburgh in 2016.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches will be Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Chris Butler and Ville Husso. Vince Dunn (upper body) continues to be day-to-day.
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The Sharks' projected lineup:
Timo Meier-Logan Couture-Gustav Nyquist
Evander Kane-Joe Pavelski-Joonas Donskoi
Melker Karlsson-Joe Thornton-Kevin Labanc
Marcus Sorensen-Dylan Gambrell-Barclay Goodrow
Joakim Ryan-Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon-Tim Heed
Martin Jones will start in goal; Aaron Dell will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Micheal Haley, Antti Suomela, Lukas Radil, Radim Simek. Tomas Hertl (upper body) and Erik Karlsson (lower body) did not make the trip and will not play. The Sharks will have a gametime decisions on Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier. Neither skated Tuesday morning.
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