The Lightning star is a frequent target of abuse. His response? Score, score, score.
By BRANT JAMES
Published April 8, 2004
TAMPA - A wry smile and a knowing look is pretty much all Martin St. Louis would offer.
Even after a game's worth of being clutched, poked, hacked and having his head plunged against the ice as if Lyle Odelein was unclogging a toilet, the Lightning right wing was not going to indulge in any postgame gloating. Even after scoring two goals, including the game-winner. Even after he stole the puck from his tormentor and swooped in for his league-leading eighth short-handed goal of the season in an eventual 4-3 win on Thursday. Not so much as a ha!
St. Louis is not the type to express that kind of satisfaction. And he might as well save the one ha! he might have in his 5-foot-9 body for later. For as surely as the Lightning begins the Eastern Conference playoffs today against the Islanders at the St. Pete Times Forum, St. Louis will be hounded and targeted not only as the league's leading scorer, but as an undersized player teams try to consume with physicality.
"It's going to get worse for him as far as the clutching and grabbing, but we don't worry about that with Marty," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "Marty expects that and he's certainly a guy people are looking to slow down."
St. Louis' only recourse will be speed and the kind of persistence that turned an undrafted player out of the University of Vermont into a scoring champion.
"It is frustrating, but it's going to be that way and you have to fight through it," he said. "That's what I have to do."
St. Louis won't be alone. When referee Rob Martell refused to make a call as Odelein crosschecked St. Louis in the back on Thursday, center Vinny Lecavalier and defenseman Darryl Sydor rushed in to help, incurring two-minue penalties. Odelein received only a slashing minor after turning his attention to Lecavalier.
"I know a lot of my teammates, sometimes when the other teams try to frustrate me, they've got my back," St. Louis said. "And that's what I like about this team. We stand up for one another."
The same group effort will be important in establishing offense as teams try to negate the Lightning's speed and forecheck in a thicket of grabby hands. It is no secret penalties are called at a decreased rate in the playoffs. "The penalties they should call are more the holding when the guy has the puck," Lecavalier said. "I guess they are just trying to bother Marty and get him off his game, and obviously it didn't work. I think the refs really should call the neutral zone holding and let us keep our speed, because if they don't it really slows down the game."
But they probably won't, so the Lightning must adapt.
"You just find ways to get through it," defenseman Cory Sarich said. "Dump the puck around people, keep putting yourself in that situation where you might get (a penalty call). If you keep getting hooked down, they're going to have to call it eventually, if it's too blatant."
And until then, persist. When Odelein attempted to carry the puck out of his own end on the power play on Thursday, it was St. Louis hustling to harass him at the blue line. No clutching, no grabbing, but a stick on a hurried pass and a puck that was in the Panther goal in a matter of seconds.
Now that's how you get even.
"Yeah, looking back, looking at the tape, am I happy it was (Odelein)? Yeah," St. Louis said. "He's the kind of guy who will play in your face and frustrate you. This is one way that I like to answer."