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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Columnists

Tampa Bay Lightning’s St. Louis running out of time

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BRANDON -

He sat in the Lightning dressing room Thursday night, looking particularly distraught. He and he and his teammates are running out of games, again.

It didn’t help that late in Thursday’s game, the midway point of this shortened season, he was badly beaten off the boards by a Winnipeg Jet who then waltzed in for the winning goal.

It was just the kind of game the Lightning can’t begin to lose if they’re to emerge from this cave and back into contention. I think the cave is going to be hard to beat.

Maybe that was hitting Marty St. Louis a little Thursday night: Time is running out. And that has double meaning for Marty. There has probably never been another athlete in Tampa Bay sports who has had more heart and soul. At the moment, both are oozing blood.

Three years ago, St. Louis wanted to know where this franchise was heading, and all but implied it better be in the right direction or … did he even want to be here?

Then the Lightning came within a win of the Stanley Cup finals. All seemed right.

And then came last season. And now there’s this season, that promising start a distant memory. It’s going the wrong way. Marty St. Louis is 37 and it seems a long way from one win from the finals.

He has long defied age and description, and trying to bury him might just make him play until he’s 50, but this losing streak … well, his face spoke volumes the other night. He can’t get back the games lost to the lockout, or a season if it’s lost to losing. He can only beat the clock for so long.

“You want to be in the playoffs every year, especially as you get older, you want to kick at the can every time,” St. Louis said.

You keep wondering how many kicks he has left.

I bet he wonders, too, as this season goes south.

He’s tied for third in the league in scoring, but has only six goals. He’s used to scoring big ones, but they haven’t been there. That has to be eating at him. Even with all those assists and points, he started badly this season, off his game, losing more battles than we’ve ever seen him lose, sometimes flat on the seat of his pants, all turned around.

“I’m playing better now than I did at the beginning of the season,” St. Louis said. “I feel like the last seven, eight games, I feel like myself again, just on the puck and creating a lot. I was statistically off to the best start of my career, but I knew I wasn’t playing to my (standards).”

He smiled.

“The discouraging part is we’re not getting any results. Maybe I should go back to playing bad and win games.”

No. 26 talked about being 37:

“I think because of my age, everybody is waiting for that time, ‘When is he going to slow down?’ For me, I just try and go play. If I have a bad game, it’s not because I’m old. When I was 25, I had plenty of bad games. Am I the same player when I was 27, 28? I think I’m a better player than then, because I think I’m a smarter player. ...But people are waiting on it. I had to fight my height, and now I have to fight my age.”

Still, and he’d never talk about it, does he really have the time for any more losing seasons? Does he really have time to see if Anders Lindback ever grows into a top No. 1 goalie? If this season spirals out of control, and big changes come, you would think St. Louis would have to consider his options.

He focused on here and now.

“We’ve played some good hockey. It could just as easily go the other way. We could put together a string. There’s no doubt we can.”

Tonight the surprising, conference-leading – and looming division rival – Montreal Canadiens are at the Forum. The joint always rocks when the Habs roll in. Amazing, but the Canadiens, St. Louis’ hometown team, haven’t won the Cup in 20 years. Time does fly. Oh, and it’s been nine years since Marty St. Louis lifted Stanley.

“You play this game for a chance to win the Cup,” he said. “When you’re out of the playoffs, you don’t have that chance. …Right now, we’re out, but I’m hoping in 24 games, we’ll be in.

“Right now, with such a short season, we don’t have time on our side.”

Marty least of all.

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