RALEIGH, N.C. — Marty St. Louis admitted there were times the past three or four weeks he had difficulty accepting how the Lightning's season will end.
Out of the playoffs, games without meaning, the wing admitted his game "chipped down a little bit."
"I'm trying to get it back," he added, "so I can finish with a good frame of mind."
That wasn't easily found after Wednesday night's 6-2 loss to the Hurricanes at the RBC Center.
The Lightning's fourth straight road loss dropped it to 31-40-9, the first time it has lost 40 games in regulation since 2001-02. That also was the last season Tampa Bay missed the playoffs.
For St. Louis, defenseman Dan Boyle and center Vinny Lecavalier, each of whom flourished through those postseason years, the "stop, do not pass go" aspect of the season presents a unique challenge.
While they admitted focus and motivation have been difficult, they know, as the team's core leaders, they must set an example.
"We've got to do the best we can," Boyle said. "If we give up, it certainly doesn't send the right message to the young guys."
Lecavalier agreed they are "trying to be professional and play hard and play for pride."
But he added, "In the back of your mind, you know you're not going to make it this year. It's disappointing."
Statistics indicate how difficult the balancing act can be.
St. Louis had zero points in five games before getting two, including his 25th goal, against Carolina. Lecavalier's two assists also snapped a five-game streak without points. Since Feb. 16, St. Louis is minus-24, Lecavalier is minus-22 and Boyle is minus-21.
They had their moments against a Hurricanes team battling for first in the Southeast.
But Lecavalier's defensive lapse led to Eric Staal's goal 32 seconds in. St. Louis fanned on a one-timer on a two-on-one with Lecavalier when Carolina led just 2-1, and Boyle, like Lecavalier, had zero shots until the third.
On the other hand, Chad LaRose had a hat trick, which gave him four goals in his past two games against Tampa Bay.
This does not put the loss on the Big 3.
Mike Smith could have been better while allowing six goals on 32 shots. Defenseman Alex Picard was minus-3. And there weren't many offensive plays made other than those by St. Louis and Lecavalier, both of whom assisted on Jeff Halpern's 20th goal.
But win or lose, playoffs or not, St. Louis, Lecavalier and Boyle are expected to give more.
"We are playing for each other first and foremost and for the logo on our jerseys," said associate coach Mike Sullivan, standing in for coach John Tortorella, who did not comment after the game. "That's important to us. That's what we get paid to do. We make sure we find the motivation and inspiration to make sure we bring our best effort."
Said St. Louis: "Instead of kicking dirt all day long, I'm trying to work on my game and bring the effort and try to help the young guys."
And himself, as well.
First Period—1, Carolina, Staal 37 (Cole, Hedican), :32. 2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 25 (Jokinen, Lecavalier), 8:24 (pp). 3, Carolina, LaRose 9 (Staal, Letowski), 16:10. Penalties—Janik, TB (slashing), 3:51; Aucoin, Car (tripping), 7:55; Lecavalier, TB (tripping), 10:14.
Second Period—4, Carolina, LaRose 10 (Ruutu, Corvo), 4:31. 5, Carolina, Walker 14 (Seidenberg, Kaberle), 8:08 (pp). Penalties—Ruutu, Car (slashing), 1:42; Karlsson, TB (hooking), 6:46; Smith, TB, served by Lukowich (roughing), 8:39; Ruutu, Car (hooking), 17:55; Lecavalier, TB, double minor (interference, unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:57.
Third Period—6, Carolina, Ruutu 10 (Samsonov, Seidenberg), 2:09 (pp). 7, Tampa Bay, Halpern 20 (St. Louis, Lecavalier), 15:46 (pp). 8, Carolina, LaRose 11 (Cole), 18:21. Penalties—LaRose, Car (high-sticking), 6:04; Staal, Car (tripping), 15:08; Corvo, Car (high-sticking), 19:55. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-5-11—25. Carolina 15-14-3—32. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 6; Carolina 2 of 6. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Smith 15-18-0 (32 shots-26 saves). Carolina, Ward 37-24-5 (25-23). A—17,644 (18,730).