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Tampa Bay Lightning's Marty St. Louis always seems to come through in the clutch

Marty St. Louis cheers the first of his two Game 3 goals in the Lightning’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins, who took a 2-1 series lead.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Marty St. Louis cheers the first of his two Game 3 goals in the Lightning’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins, who took a 2-1 series lead.

TAMPA

He has given his sweat, and he has given his blood. He has fought tooth and nail, especially tooth. After a season of being his team's best player, he has spent a week of the postseason being his team's best player.

Given all that, how can the Lightning possibly ask for more from Marty St. Louis?

On the other hand, given the circumstances, how can it not?

The Lightning needs him now because it trails its playoff series with Pittsburgh two games to one and a defeat in tonight's game would be difficult to survive. The Lightning needs him now because the rest of the offense has struggled with a Penguins team that has been reborn as a smothering defensive unit. The Lightning needs him now because the rest of the offense is in a lingering slump at the worst possible time.

It needs him now because the game is big, and the moment is crucial, and in such moments, who else has the Lightning ever depended upon more than St. Louis?

This is who he is, and this is what he does. In other places people still talk about his size (listed as 5 feet 8). In other arenas people talk about his age (35). Around here, however, onlookers learned long ago to think of Marty as a big-game memory-making machine. If you need a goal, if you need a play, who has ever been a better bet for the Lightning than St. Louis?

Three games into this series and St. Louis has played as if he is trying to make up for his three seasons away from the playoffs, as if he is intent on seizing the chance before it slips away, as if he is aware of how precious these games are. He has three goals in his past two games, each of them more important than the other.

What will he do tonight?

We'll see.

"He's a clutch player," said Lighting coach Guy Boucher. "The more pressure there is, the better. That's Marty.

"I just think he's one of those guys whose entire life is based on proving something: As a smaller guy, you can be a top scorer. Not just a pro, but a top scorer. I just think life is a challenge for him every day."

These moments, however — the postseason moments when St. Louis darts in and out of players a foot taller and 40 pounds heavier, when he drives, prods and energizes his teams — are the moments that have defined St. Louis. There have been times in his Lightning career when other scorers have been more prolific — Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos. But St. Louis always has seemed largest when the air gets thin and the game gets tight. In those moments, standing on his accomplishments, St. Louis is a giant.

"What impresses me is that this is a recurrent thing with St. Louis," Boucher said. "That's rare. You get some guys who can be a clutch player every so many games. But when you get a guy who does it regularly, that's what's impressive. You don't want to rely on him, but … "

How big is he?

• He is big enough to deserve consideration for this year's league MVP award. Yes, there are arguments against him. But St. Louis certainly should be in the top three.

• He is big enough to reach the Hall of Fame. A year ago, there were discussions of how much more St. Louis needed to accomplish. But with this 99-point season, this year should put him over the top.

• He is big enough to be in the short discussion as the best athlete ever to play in Tampa Bay. Around here there is Lee Roy Selmon, and there is Derrick Brooks, and there is Warren Sapp. And there is St. Louis. (Soon, David Price or Evan Longoria might included, but not yet.)

Eight times he has scored 25 or more goals. For five straight seasons he has played in every game of a season. The faint scars around his face show the wear, but still he does not back down.

All that said, the Lightning could have lost St. Louis. He was worn down by the dysfunction of the previous ownership. After all, check out what happened to Charlie Sheen after he spent too much time around Oren Koules, former owner of the Lightning and an executive co-producer of Two and a Half Men. If Jeff Vinik hadn't taken over the team, who knows? St. Louis might be somewhere talking about tiger blood.

Instead, he is here, still competing, still scrapping.

"I remember Michael Jordan saying that if the game was on the line, I want to be the guy," Boucher said. "And if I'm the guy and I screw up, that's good. It's not necessarily about having success every time. It's having the guts to go forward and be the guy. Not everyone has that.

"That's Marty's mental strength. He has that daring personality. Whenever there are pressure moments, it's never a threat. It's always an opportunity."

For the Lighting to succeed, it is going to need as much of St. Louis as possible. Who knows? Maybe he could manage a couple of assists tonight, which would be good because it would mean other players were scoring. Maybe the Lightning needs him to play defense. With St. Louis, you take your chances.

Tonight, once again, he needs to make a play. Maybe two. Maybe more.

Somehow, you like his chances.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Marty St. Louis always seems to come through in the clutch 04/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 10:49pm]
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