Lightning's St. Louis leading by example

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:13 AM ET

You look at his eyes, dark and intense, and they remind you of that famous picture of Maurice "The Rocket" Richard.

It was just a publicity pic the Montreal Canadiens had shot, The Rocket skating in what's probably a darkened Forum towards the camera, the puck on his stick.

But his eyes ... they burned right through the lens. He looked crazy.

Same thing with Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis.

No moreso than at this time of year.

Vincent Lecavalier might be bigger and Steven Stamkos more natural talent, but St. Louis is the emotional epicentre of this Bolts team.

The guy radiates intensity ... and that's just when he's at the centre of a media scrum in the dressing room.

"You even watch the game?" he said impatiently to a reporter whose question he didn't like after the Lightning's 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins in the opening game of their Eastern Conference final Saturday night.

"He is one of the most intense, competitive guys," Tampa defenceman Mike Lundin was saying the other day, "and when the playoffs come, it goes up a notch."

St. Louis is just one point off the playoff scoring lead held by Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler (15 points). St. Louis picked up an assist in the Bolt's Game 1 victory, but what stood out when the game was scoreless, and the form of this series was yet to be really set, was a blocked shot on Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk before the game was 10 minutes old.

Elite players making plays like that? People notice.

If there's a guy in the NHL who appreciates more what he's got, just the opportunity, than St. Louis, I don't know who he is.

At 35 years old, he still takes nothing for granted.

"I remember in my first playoff experience we lost to Jersey in the second round and I couldn't believe we had to play another 82 games to get to that level of hockey," he said. "This is the best hockey you get to play, so you don't want to waste any opportunities."

He makes sure everybody on the Lightning knows it, too.

"I talk about it all the time. Have to. There are a lot of young guys here and when you're young, you think you have time on your side. Yeah, you might have time, but you just might not get the opportunity."

St. Louis was asked about his philosophy when it comes to "elevating his game," at this time of year.

He looked at the questioner with those eyes.

"My philosophy? If you don't try to elevate your game at this time of year, I don't think you should be in this position. We're here because everybody elevated their games. There's 30 teams to start the year and there's four left because they elevated their games."

In the visitors' dressing room here at TD Garden, Lightning forward Steven Stamkos sits in a stall next to St. Louis and Lecavalier.

Stamkos sees what's going on, sees things like St. Louis blocking that shot.

The Lightning lead all playoff teams with 250 blocked shots, nine more than the San Jose Sharks heading into the first game of the Western Conference final Sunday nght.

"The playoffs is all about sacrificing," said Stamkos. "(Ryan) Malone had a big blocked shot early on, Marty did, too. Other guys on the team feed off that. They see the sacrifice everyone on our team is willing to do to win. It's contagious."

The shot blocking thing is going to be interesting as this series moves along. The Lightning blocked 17 in Game 1.

"You just keep shooting. Eventually they are going to get through or one of their guys is going to get hurt blocking a shot," said Bruins forward Chris Kelly, "and maybe they'll think twice about getting in that lane."

Thing is, with guys like St. Louis, they don't think about it.

They just do it.


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