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Backs against the wall, Tampa Bay Lightning needs a best player to step up

“We need our stars to be our stars” today, says Lightning coach Guy Boucher of the group that includes Steven Stamkos.

DIRK SHADD | Times

“We need our stars to be our stars” today, says Lightning coach Guy Boucher of the group that includes Steven Stamkos.

TAMPA — At this point, the Lightning could use a little rescuing. And whose turn is it?

Marty St. Louis'?

Vinny Lecavalier's?

The team could use a memory maker. The day cries out to be saved, and the fire needs to be put out, and the vultures need to be shooed away.

Steven Stamkos?

"Boom-Boom" Bergenheim?

The pressure is mounting again. The odds against the Lightning are climbing. The doubts have returned. The defense has taken one game off, and the offense the next, and the Bruins have goaltender Tim Thomas facing in the proper direction once again. If there has ever been a time the Lightning could use a player to claim ownership of a series, it is now.

Somebody?

Anybody?

"Everybody," said Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher, who understandably is a little greedy when it comes to such things as punching back. "We need our stars to be our stars, and we need our third-liners to contribute, and we need our fourth-liners to go out there and do their job."

Do not underestimate the importance of today's game for the Lightning. True, it trails Boston only two games to one in the Eastern Conference final, and true, it came from 3-1 down to overtake Pittsburgh only two series ago. Even if it were to lose today, the skating would continue.

On the other hand, the Bruins are better than the Penguins, and such a comeback would be a harder climb. Think of overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh as climbing Mount Everest. Think of overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Bruins as climbing Everest barefoot.

In other words, yeah, today's game is kind of large.

Who, then, are we to expect to step up? Lecavalier, whose three winning goals in the playoffs this year (tied for second in the NHL) have moved him into No. 1 in Lightning history with eight? St. Louis, who has seven career winners in the postseason? Bergenheim, who heading into Friday was tied for the playoff lead with eight goals?

With this team, it's hard to tell. It has won nine times in the playoffs, and seven players have scored the winning goal.

The thing is, this feeling of slight desperation is not new for the Lightning. Most teams deal with it throughout the playoffs. Most have to gather themselves at times when it seems a season is intent on going in the wrong direction.

"We're pretty good with our backs to the wall," is the way Boucher puts it.

That's true. If the Lighting has proven anything in this turnaround season, it is that it is so darned stubborn. And for all the cliches about how a team's best players have to be its best players in the most important moments, opponents never quite know where its counterpunch is coming from.

"You never know who it's going to be," said Simon Gagne. "At the start of the season, it used to be Stamkos all the time and Marty all the time. That's not the way you have to do it in the payoffs. You need everybody to maybe be the guy."

Go back to Game 5 against the Penguins. Pittsburgh had won two in a row. It was on home ice. And the pockets of its fans bulged with confetti for the celebration that was to come. Then Gagne scored two, and Stamkos scored two, and Pavel Kubina scored two.

Then there was Game 6, when Teddy Purcell, Bergenheim, Steve Downie and Ryan Malone turned into the Beatles. After that, the Penguins seemed to know what was coming.

In Game 7, it was Bergenheim scoring the only goal as Dwayne Roloson stopped 36 shots in a 1-0 shutout.

"That's what got us here," Malone said. "Everyone is chipping in, and everyone is buying in."

If there is a comfort for the Lighting in its current predicament, it is the knowledge that big goals can come from anywhere. This is a deep team with the ability to blur its lines in crucial moments. In sports where teams can script where the ball goes on offense, the star of the game is easier to predict. In hockey, where improvisation and circumstance and effort have so much to do with the outcome, it can be anyone.

Take Game 2 of the Washington series, the game that swung the second round. That was Lecavalier scoring twice, including the death blow in a 3-2 overtime win.

For that matter, go back to Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final, the biggest back-against-the-wall game in franchise history, the Lightning one loss from losing the Cup. That was St. Louis scoring in double overtime, remember? The next game, Game 7, it was Ruslan Fedotenko.

Who might it be today? If the Lighting is to even the series, someone will stand up today.

St. Louis? Lecavalier? Stamkos?

Someone from the offense? The defense? The goaltender?

A shooter on the player play? A grinder on the penalty kill? Who knows? If Phil Esposito's heart is going to make it to June, maybe the key performer will be an official he finally agrees with.

Somebody. Anybody.

Volunteers?

Backs against the wall, Tampa Bay Lightning needs a best player to step up 05/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2011 9:49pm]
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