TAMPA — As soon as Vinny Lecavalier saw teammate Marty St. Louis pick off the pass, Lecavalier was off to the races.
"The work on that, for me, is to beat the D," Lecavalier said.
That is because the Lightning center knew St. Louis' first instinct would be to pass to his fastbreaking teammate.
And that is just what happened in Saturday's 6-2 victory over the Hurricanes as Lecavalier took the pass in stride and scored on a breakaway.
"I knew the puck would be there," Lecavalier said Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum. "We just know how each other plays."
Watching Lecavalier and St. Louis, two of Tampa Bay's most iconic figures, play on the same line the past few weeks has been quite a show. Not only because it hasn't happened consistently since the first half of the 2008-09 season, but because, as St. Louis said, "It really feels like we're back to where we once were. … This is the best we've played together since our good years together."
And that makes the pair a huge story as the Lightning and Penguins begin their playoff series Wednesday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
"It's great to see Vinny and Marty getting that chemistry back," center Steven Stamkos said. "It's an exciting thing for our team and probably not for the team we're facing."
A couple of caveats: Coach Guy Boucher is not married to lines, and players on Monday spoke vaguely about several combinations discussed at an hourlong team meeting.
Boucher also isn't above floating information for the sake of gamesmanship. So, while he said he was keeping Lecavalier and St. Louis together, today's practice will provide more proof.
That said, the two have played so well it would be a surprise if they were separated.
"They're our leaders," Boucher said. "They've lived it before. They've got the experience, the knowledge and the drive to do it, and they've done it together."
Lecavalier and St. Louis, teammates since 2000 and Stanley Cup champions in 2004, were the league's hottest combo during the 2006-07 season.
Lecavalier led the league with 52 goals and had a career-best 108 points. St. Louis had career highs of 43 goals and 102 points.
They remained a pair until then-coach Rick Tocchet in January 2009 switched St. Louis to Stamkos' line, where he flourished. That is, until last month, when Boucher decided a Lecavalier-St. Louis reunion was in order for the playoffs: "We needed a big push."
Boucher also wanted to take pressure off Stamkos, 21, who has 45 goals but just five in his past 28 games.
"By separating Stamkos and St. Louis, you relieve the pressure on Stamkos," Boucher said. "We're looking to our guys who lived it before, who managed it before, to give that push. The pressure should be on them, not a 20-year-old."
The pressure will be on Pittsburgh to cope with a talented playmaker in St. Louis, who had a career-best 68 assists, and a rejuvenated finisher in Lecavalier, who had 25 goals in an injury-shortened 65 games but nine and 17 points in his past 14.
"Marty is such a quick skater, he makes you come along with him," Lecavalier said. "He makes things happen, and it seems like we know where each other is on the ice.
"We can sense what we're going to do. We can anticipate. It creates things."
Such as the breakaway against Carolina, that began with St. Louis swiping a pass in the defensive zone and immediately banking the puck off a side wall to a streaking Lecavalier.
"It's not the first time we did that. It's just awareness," St. Louis said. "If I put it somewhere close to there, there's a good chance Vinny is going to be there."
NOTES: Defenseman Randy Jones, out 16 games with a high ankle sprain, is "ready to play," Boucher said. With nine defensemen on the roster, that means tough decisions for the coach. … Lecavalier, with four goals and five points in three games, is the league's second star for the week ending Sunday. Buffalo's Thomas Vanek was first. Ducks and former Tampa Bay goalie Dan Ellis was third. … Game 4, April 20 in Tampa, is a 7 p.m. start to accommodate CBC in Canada.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at cri[email protected]
(5) Lightning vs. (4) Penguins
Wednesday: at Pittsburgh, 7, Sun Sports
Friday: at Pittsburgh, 7 #
Monday: at Tampa Bay, 7:30 #
April 20: at Tampa Bay, 7 #
April 23: at Pittsburgh, TBA * #
April 25: at Tampa Bay, TBA * #
April 27: at Pittsburgh, TBA * #
* If necessary # Sun Sports or FSN
All games on 970-AM, except Games 5 and 6, which will be on 620-AM.