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St. Louis responds when pressure builds

The Lightning right wing is evolving into a team leader, on the ice and off.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published November 16, 2003

WASHINGTON - He fooled us, you know. Martin St. Louis did not score a preseason goal and red flags were everywhere.

We should have known better.

The Lightning right wing has five goals and nine assists. His 14 points, a pace that would earn him a career-high 82 for the season, are second on the team, one behind Cory Stillman. But St. Louis' career has evolved into more than a quest for points. The Laval, Quebec, native is working to become a team leader.

"I'm trying," he said. "I think you have to grow into it. You have to earn it from your teammates."

You earn it by the way you play.

"But it's definitely your actions off the ice as well," he said. "You show that you care, that you want it every game. You show that with your body language and in your words."

Words were all the Lightning had during Wednesday's team meeting. Called in part to figure out what was going wrong during a 1-2-1-1 streak, St. Louis spoke about returning to the gritty, in-your-face style of play the team seemed to have abandoned.

"Marty has grown," coach John Tortorella said. "I look at the way he spoke and how he's handled himself. He's not a guy trying to find a way."

St. Louis backed it up Friday with a shorthanded goal and two assists during a 5-2 victory over the Capitals. His eight shorthanded goals are second in franchise history.

"I know I can do that, energize my team the way I play on the ice," he said. "That's been missing, not only from me but from a few guys. But that's going to happen during an 82-game schedule."

Still, he said, "It weighs. I always put pressure on myself. I've done that all my life."

Pressure from St. Louis flustered Capitals defenseman Sergei Gonchar enough that Gonchar's pass hit goalie Olaf Kolzig and deflected into the net for a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead.

St. Louis' stickwork in the second period took the puck away from Robert Lang and sparked a breakaway goal that made it 5-1.

"Scoring on their power play is a definite backbreaker," St. Louis said. "I was very excited, obviously. I put pressure on myself. I've had chances to score goals in previous games and it hadn't gone in."

St. Louis, who had no goals and one assist in four previous games, said such slumps only bother him when the team isn't winning.

That is why Friday's game was so important. The Lightning does not play until Thursday against the Islanders, and it would have been no fun during the layoff thinking about a loss.

"This was another step in the right direction," St. Louis said. "Sometimes we go backward a bit and take two steps back and one step forward. Last night we took two steps forward,"

No surprise who was leading the way.

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