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Credit Tuesday's Lightning win to its key line's efforts to regain its old power.
Published Oct. 30, 2008

Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier listened quietly as Marty St. Louis, in the next locker stall, was being interviewed.

But when St. Louis was asked if the MVP line was working hard enough, Lecavalier could not hold his tongue.

"We weren't not working hard," he said.

"But sometimes when you're working hard," St. Louis said, "you're working stupid."

Understanding the distinction is crucial, St. Louis said, if the line, which also includes left wing Vinny Prospal, is to continue as an offensive force.

"And who are we kidding?" coach Barry Melrose said. "We're not going anywhere without Lecavalier, St. Louis and Prospal."

The line found its game for the first time Tuesday. Lecavalier had two goals, Prospal two assists and St. Louis four shots in an important 3-2 victory in Toronto.

"They were on the puck a lot more," Melrose said. "They competed for the puck. They won battles. They read the forecheck a lot better."

Evaluating the MVP line is tricky. Its eight goals are more than half the team's 14. Lecavalier's five, including two winners, is impressive given he missed training camp because of April shoulder surgery. Prospal's four assists include pinpoint passing.

But Lecavalier and Prospal, with six points each, entered Wednesday tied for 95th in the league. St. Louis' five points, on a goal and four assists, were tied for 135th.

The power play, on which they are supposed to be major contributors, was second-to-last at 10.8 percent (4-for-37).

"To be honest, it's been hard because we haven't felt good about ourselves," St. Louis said. "We leave the rinks after games and you feel like you failed."

The problem is not chemistry, he said:

"I think when you have success for a period of time, sometimes it gets away from you because it gets so easy you forget how you worked your way up to that. You have to go back to the things that made you successful."

Asked what that game looks like, St. Louis said, "Everything is with speed. It's not perimeter play. It's not slowing down. It makes it difficult on teams to react if we play quick and everything is on its way to the net."

That was the case against Toronto. Melrose said he especially liked that two of the trio, instead of just one, as had been the case so many times this season, were in on the forecheck, with the third lending support high in the zone.

"We were buzzing," Lecavalier said. "We were right on the puck. We were so aggressive and created turnovers. That's how you create chances."

"It was like a reward," St. Louis said. "We finally stuck to it and got success. We won a game and got a power-play goal."

St. Louis said the rebuilding process has gone on for about 10 or 12 days with meetings and video sessions. That attention to detail will be crucial tonight at HSBC Arena against the Sabres, whose speed and skill give Tampa Bay fits.

"I don't think it all falls on our shoulders," St. Louis said.

"But we're a line that has been counted on for important minutes in important parts of games. We have to deliver."


Lightning at Sabres

When/where: 7; HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM

Injuries: Tampa Bay - RW Radim Vrbata (groin) and F Ryan Craig (groin) are day to day. Buffalo - C Jochen Hecht (finger), C Paul Gaustad (thumb) and D Craig Rivet (knee) are out; C Tim Connolly (neck) and D Henrik Tallinder (leg) are day to day.

Key stats: Sabres LW Thomas Vanek entered Wednesday tied for the league lead with eight goals and was second with 43 shots. He had seven goals in four games last season against the Lightning. ... Buffalo led with an average 22.7 penalty minutes. ... Tampa Bay is on an 0-3-2 streak against the Sabres and is 1-4-1 the past three seasons in Buffalo while being outscored 31-18.