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Tampa Bay Lightning's big 3 carries a heavy load

Steven Stamkos, scoring against the Thrashers’ Johan Hedberg on March 6, has 42 of the Lightning’s 183 goals.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Steven Stamkos, scoring against the Thrashers’ Johan Hedberg on March 6, has 42 of the Lightning’s 183 goals.

TAMPA — If there was any doubt how heavily the Lightning leans on Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier to carry it offensively, it was dispelled the past two games.

Only one goal among them, and Tampa Bay lost twice 2-1.

"I don't care who you are, that's a lot of pressure," coach Rick Tocchet said. "I don't think it's fair for them to put pressure on themselves every game that they have to score or we lose."

But that is how this season has gone. Stamkos, with a team-best 42 goals; St. Louis, with 24, and Lecavalier, with 20, have 86 of the team's 183. That is 47 percent, the most of any team from its top three scorers. The only team close: the Sharks, with 44.1 percent of their 220 goals from Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski.

One footnote: Ryan Malone actually is third for the Lightning with 21 goals. But he is out for two weeks after knee surgery and has been invisible with six goals in his past 43 games and zero in his past 15.

Lecavalier is playing well, with five goals and six points in his past seven games, meaning he will be far more important as Tampa Bay tries to hang on to its slim playoff hopes. But back to the point, which is that such unbalanced scoring is a failed recipe. In 19 games in which neither Stamkos, St. Louis nor Lecavalier scored, Tampa Bay is 4-10-4.

"Those are elite players in the league, so the onus is on them to get those points," left wing Todd Fedoruk said of his teammates. "But it's the responsibility of the rest of us to pick up the slack."

"It shouldn't be something the team is affected by," he added about games in which the three are shut out. "The team should be, 'Okay, it's not going in for them. I want to get my chance.' "

Chances and goals are different things.

Only four teams have fewer tallies from the defense than Tampa Bay's 22. Left wing Alex Tanguay has zero goals in his past 13 games and one in his past 20. So the pressure constantly is on Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier to contribute.

"We're lucky those guys are strong-minded," Tocchet said.

St. Louis, with a team-best 81 points, shrugged it off.

"It's part of the game," he said. "It's part of the minutes you play, the role you play. Is that pressure? Yeah, that's pressure. But that is what it's all about. This isn't a playground."

"As a player you want to be in those pressure situations," Stamkos said. "You're not thinking, 'If I don't go out there, the team has no chance.' You're definitely not thinking that. You're thinking maybe you have a chance to do something to help the team win."

And the team — 11th in the East, six points behind the eighth-place Bruins for the final playoff spot with 13 games left — needs victories, beginning tonight against the Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"We definitely put a lot of pressure on ourselves," said Lecavalier, who has reversed a terrible start with his best play of the season. "That's what we're here to do, score goals. Saying that, we can do more, including myself.

"You have to think as an individual. You have to do your best in a game to get that big goal."

Especially when the other options are so limited.

Lightning vs. Sabres

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Sun Sports;

620-AM

Key stats: Sabres D Tyler Myers entered Wednesday leading all rookies with 28 assists and was fourth with 37 points. … The Lightning is 0-1-1 against Buffalo this season and 0-for-5 on the power play. … Buffalo had the league's top penalty kill at 85.9 percent.

Tampa Bay Lightning's big 3 carries a heavy load 03/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 18, 2010 7:36am]
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