TAMPA - For Martin St. Louis, there was no room to move.
The crowd around him was oppressive, overbearing. It gathered around him, reducing the oxygen, shutting out the light. And, as he had for most of the afternoon, St. Louis searched for answers.
He sat at his locker, large drops of sweat falling from his forehead, puddling on the carpet below.
For most of the day, he had been grabbed, pushed, leaned on, danced with, frustrated, harassed and handled. He was tired. He was also a little ticked.
St. Louis was talking about a fight. He was also talking about a team that, in his estimation, had been about two quarts low in Saturday's 3-0 playoff loss to the Islanders.
"We're not battling hard enough," St. Louis said. "They looked hungrier. I know it's a big game for them, but it's a big game for us, too. They have looked a lot more hungry than we have looked.
"We didn't have enough guts out there, I guess. We weren't desperate enough to win this game. In the playoffs, you have to be desperate every time out. You have to play as if it's your last game."
There was a bit of an edge to St. Louis' voice. Good. He seemed a little disappointed in the home team. Better.
Who else would you ask to ignite a spark in his locker room than St. Louis, the face of this team? Whose voice is going to gather more listeners?
If someone is going to challenge his teammates, and himself, St. Louis needs to be the one.
Two games in, and let's face it, the Lightning are fortunate to be tied in the series. So far, they've been outplayed by the Islanders, and only a glittering performance by Nikolai Khabibulin in Game 1 has Tampa Bay even.
If you had never seen these teams play before, you'd probably guess New York was the No. 1 seed and Tampa Bay the eighth.
To be honest, it has been a tough pair of games for St. Louis, the acknowledged favorite to win the league's MVP trophy. St. Louis has yet to score a goal or an assist in the series. He has had only five shots in two games. On the ice, too, he has been surrounded.
Oh, there was a moment, midway through the first period, where St. Louis had a rare flash of light.
Playing shorthanded, he had the puck on his stick in open ice. St. Louis broke ahead, bearing down on the Islanders' Rick DiPietro, but Radek Martinek - translated loosely: A pain in Martin's neck - got his stick on St. Louis' stick and altered the shot.
"I guess he made a great play," St. Louis said. "They didn't call a penalty, so it must have been a good play."
It has gone that way for St. Louis. The Islanders are a tough matchup for him. They are a trapping, clogging, body-jostling team, and they seem to chew up a lot of territory on the ice.
St. Louis, on the other hand, is at his best when he is operating in space, darting through defenders like a water bug on caffeine.
Against the Islanders, it has been all dirt roads and detour signs. Every path St. Louis takes seems to turn into a traffic jam. It has been that way all season.
In the four regular season games, St. Louis had no goals and one assist.
And still, the Lightning need him desperately to lead the charge. It is the playoffs. Stars need to play like stars. MVP favorites need to show what the voters were thinking.
"Am I disappointed?" St. Louis said. "Yes, but it's not time to feel sorry for yourself. It's time to look ahead and kick it into an extra gear and try to do some damage.
"I know I have to get it going. I have to have something to show for it. I'm not looking for anyone else to do it. I've had two breakaways in two games. If I had made those, it could be a different story."
Give credit to the Islanders. So far, their plan seems to be to force St. Louis wide, to lean on him, to see just how quick he is when he has to wear, say, Adrian Aucoin as an overcoat.
"I'm working," St. Louis said. "I have to work harder."
Fact is, the Islanders' defense has been so strong, you'd think the Lightning was playing the '85 Bears.
The top four regular-season scorers on the team are still without a point in the series. Think of it this way: Tampa Bay's best shot at scoring Saturday was in its kicking game. That was before officials disallowed a goal by Vinny "The Toe" Lecavalier.
Eventually, the urgency to score will flood across all of them, Lecavalier and Brad Richards and Cory Stillman. As always, however, the pressure starts with St. Louis. All eyes are on him. All ears, too.
"Our battle meter is not where it's supposed to be," St. Louis said. "We might be able to get by on finesse during the regular season, but there is more than finesse in the playoffs and right now, we're not showing it."
A year ago, there were similar questions about the Lightning, about St. Louis. Tampa Bay had lost its first playoff games to Washington, and St. Louis hadn't scored a goal in either. Things looked fairly desperate then, too. That was before St. Louis caught a spark and scored seven goals in his next nine games.
This time, the pressure is on St. Louis to do it again.
He has called out his team. Who else should be the first to answer?