TAMPA — Mike Sullivan's admiration for Marty St. Louis seems limitless.
The associate coach called the Lightning right wing "the consummate professional," a "dynamic guy" and "one of the most underrated players in the league."
Too bad, Sullivan said, he played for the University of Vermont.
"This would be a whole lot easier for me to say," Sullivan said of his praise, "if he was a BU guy."
As in Boston University, where Sullivan went and which faces Vermont in the semifinals of the NCAA hockey tournament tonight.
That is how much respect St. Louis has in the Tampa Bay locker room, even more so after a season in which the team has tanked but he has flourished.
St. Louis has 30 goals for the fifth time. He needs one point for 80 and is plus-6 on a team with a minus-66 goal differential, a testament to his defense and backchecking.
More impressive: He has maintained such a high level of play late in a season of so many losses that have begged players to mail it in.
"I don't just try to play the season out," St. Louis said. "I'm trying to be part of the solution."
"The thing that sets him apart is that he brings it every night and on every shift," teammate Cory Murphy said. "It's pretty impressive, actually. He's an elite player in this league, for sure."
St. Louis' effort, though, has been overshadowed by the foundering team. Too bad, because what he does deserves to be noticed and appreciated.
The Laval, Quebec, native, who has played all 80 games, is the most vocal player in team video sessions, coaches said, and he dissects and critiques as coaches diagram plays during practices.
He makes DVDs of every game so he can study his shifts and, as Sullivan said, "engages in dialogue the next day as to what took place. He controls everything in his power to give himself the best chance to be successful."
"It's Game 80, we're nowhere near the playoffs, and you have a guy who watches Game 80 on a DVD," coach Rick Tocchet said." I want that guy on my team."
St. Louis, 33, said he isn't much for individual accomplishments right now: "How the team did overrides a lot."
He vows after two seasons without playoffs that the next time he is in them, "I'll enjoy it a little bit more because of the tough times."
He is stumped by Tampa Bay's five goals on five-on-three power plays, tied for 19th in the league, and as quarterback said, "I take the blame."
And he kicks himself for just five goals in his first 24 games.
"If I had a better start, are we here today? I don't know," he said. "So I'm not going home saying, 'Marty, you're okay, you had a great year.' There are crucial games that I could have been better, especially early on."
A couple of crucial games are tonight. The Lightning faces the Southeast-best Capitals in its home finale at the St. Pete Times Forum. And Vermont plays Boston University.
Sullivan and St. Louis have a dinner bet on the outcome of the second. Asked where he will take the associate coach, St. Louis faked horror.
"Whoa, whoa," he said. "He's going to be buying me dinner."