TAMPA — Marty St. Louis, the other day, tried to make the case that his pursuit of the NHL points title "is not worth talking about until it's actually there."
The truth is, with one game left in a second straight nonplayoff season for the Lightning, it is the only thing to talk about.
Even coach Jon Cooper said, "The one thing we have going is to hold on to that."
By the end of tonight's season finale with the Panthers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, we will know if St. Louis has earned the Art Ross Trophy.
It would be his second, having also won in 2004. This time, though, the right wing, at 37, would be the oldest to win it.
It could be close.
St. Louis' 58 points, on 16 goals and 42 assists, are two ahead of teammate Steven Stamkos and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. He is three ahead of Chicago's Patrick Kane and four ahead of Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who play their regular-season finales tonight. Crosby is out of Pittsburgh's finale tonight with a broken jaw.
With Stamkos in the mix — and that with 29 goals, he is three behind Ovechkin in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy — you might see Stamkos and St. Louis, good friends as well as linemates, trying to get each other the puck.
But, as St. Louis said, "You get in these situations, you just play the game, play the right way. That's the only way you can help each other out."
"When you start forcing things and cheating," Stamkos said, "that's when you don't get rewarded."
The biggest reward for St. Louis would be a return to the playoffs.
He turns 38 in June, so his career clock is ticking, which might make you wonder if St. Louis would ask general manager Steve Yzerman to find him a home with a contender.
No, St. Louis said, when asked if that was a consideration.
"I'm optimistic," he said about the direction of the team. "We have a lot of good things to be excited about."
About Cooper, he said, "I like the way he wants us to play, the way he sees the game. It's puck possession. It's five (players) defending, five attacking, five in all zones. It's exciting."
In the abstract, St. Louis is having his greatest offensive season. His 16 goals extrapolated over a normal 82-game schedule would give him 30. His 42 assists would give him a career-best 73. The combined 103 points also would be a career mark.
"As miserable as the season has been for us not being in the playoffs … I'm pretty fortunate to see him every day," Stamkos said, "to see how hard he works and tries to be the best player he can be, no matter what age he is."
"It's inspiration," defenseman Radko Gudas said before he was reassigned to AHL Syracuse. "I'm trying to take as much as I can from him."
What will St. Louis take from this season?
"The way the team does is what's important," he said. "That's what you remember. Am I going to take myself off the hook because I had a good year? No, I have to be better."
Better than perhaps earning a points championship?
"Don't get me wrong, I'd be excited," St. Louis said of winning. "But those awards are never as fun when you're doing it in this kind of season as a team."
"I like where we're going," he added, "but I want to get there."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]