TAMPA — There was a telling moment in Guy Boucher's meeting with reporters Monday, when he answered a question about stars Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos before it was even asked.
"You're playing Stamkos and St. Louis …"
"Too much," the Lightning coach blurted out.
It does seem as if St. Louis and Stamkos —to borrow a Boucher-ism — are sleeping on the ice.
In his past six games, St. Louis played an average 26 minutes, 40 seconds, and in Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes played a career-high 29:35.
Stamkos averaged 25:21 in that span and had a career high Saturday of 27:31.
"Incredible minutes," teammate Keith Aulie said.
Minutes usually reserved for defensemen, and the six-game averages dwarf by about four minutes the usual ice time for the players, already two of the league's top minute munchers.
Good thing Stamkos, 22, has young legs and St. Louis, 36, is a physical freak.
Even so, Boucher knows how much he is asking; see his pre-question answer.
"We can't keep this up 'til the end of the year playing them that many minutes," he added. "I have to rely on some other guys."
But he is kind of stuck.
Losing Vinny Lecavalier to a fractured right hand left a gaping hole in the lineup. And with playoff hopes hanging by a thread it's easy to lean on Stamkos, who has a league-best 48 goals and is second with 82 points, and St. Louis, second on the team with 22 goals and the leader with 40 assists.
"I can't ask more of them," Boucher said. "They're giving everything they've got."
"It's something that we both want," Stamkos said. "We want to be guys that impact the game. We want to play those minutes."
Both played big minutes all season. St. Louis leads all wings and is second among forwards with an average 22:23 of ice time. Stamkos is second among centers and fifth among forwards at 21:41.
St. Louis even said it is easier to play more now than the start of the season, when it seems players would be fresher.
"But you're not in game shape," he said. Besides, "You like to see how many minutes you played. It gives you a little information to assess yourself."
His assessment? "I feel good."
Stamkos said the same even though he sat out Monday's practice for what the team called body maintenance, meaning he has enough bumps and bruises to take the day off ahead of tonight's game with the Stanley Cup champion Bruins at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"Just the regular stuff throughout the season," Stamkos said. "I just want to make sure I'm feeling as good as I can."
Stamkos said he and St. Louis have to maintain energy during games by keeping shifts short, maybe 45 seconds. But against Carolina, the pair and linemate Teddy Purcell stayed out for an entire two-minute power play.
"Usually I'm screaming at them after a minute to come off," Boucher said. "That time I didn't. We have no choice."
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"When it ends it probably means we're done," St. Louis said of the increased minutes. "So, I hope it doesn't end."