TAMPA — That the Lightning has gotten so much offensive production out of its so-called role players has been a nice little story this playoff season.
The dirty little secret is how little production it has gotten lately from its Big 3.
Captain Vinny Lecavalier, center Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis have one goal and three points among them in the past three games of the Eastern Conference final with the Bruins. And the goal was St. Louis' Game 4 empty-netter.
You could throw Ryan Malone, with one assist in the series, into the mix as well.
If Tampa Bay ever needed these guys to step up, it is now.
The Lightning is down three games to two in the best-of-seven series and facing elimination in tonight's Game 6 at the St. Pete Times Forum. There also is a real chance injured wing Sean Bergenheim, with a playoffs-best nine goals entering Tuesday, will not play.
"I know we're counted on," St. Louis said Tuesday. "Obviously, I expect myself to step up and be there for my team. Vinny does, too, and Stammer does, too. I know we give our team a better chance to win."
"Of course we have to lead," Lecavalier said. "We're definitely up for the challenge."
The Big 3 haven't been totally invisible.
Lecavalier had a goal and three assists in the 6-5 Game 2 loss. Stamkos had a goal and two assists. St. Louis has two goals and four points in the series.
But with the Bruins taking special notice of the trio (it is no coincidence defenseman Zdeno Chara is on the ice when Lecavalier is there) and the power play 2-for-18 in the series, the well generally has been dry.
How frustrating that is for Lecavalier and St. Louis, who entering Tuesday were tied for second in the playoffs with 17 points. And for Stamkos, who shows flashes, but only flashes, of breaking the scoring slump that has gripped him since February.
"Do I expect more of myself? Absolutely," St. Louis said, summing it up for all three. "I expect that every game, and when I don't get that, I'm disappointed. But you have to be honest with your assessment, too. We're working hard. We're just not getting rewarded at times. You have to stay the course. You have to keep playing."
Coach Guy Boucher is loathe to put the onus on his top players because all season he has preached a team game.
"I see it that on this particular day you don't know who your best players are going to be," he said. "If I'm always expecting Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier to be the best players every night, I'm sadly mistaken. They already have all the pressure in the world. I'm not going to put more pressure on them."
"That's been our mentality all along," center Dominic Moore said, "to have everybody on the same page in terms of how they play and who can contribute on any given night."
But tonight isn't any game. It is an elimination game. It is backs against the wall, crunch time and all that.
And that calls for a team's stars to shine.
"We have to lead by example, for sure," Lecavalier said.
Wouldn't that be a nice — no, a big — story for Tampa Bay.