Martin St. Louis will be facing his ex-team, the Lightning, as Rangers look to get to Stanley Cup Final.
Martin St. Louis knew what was coming when he saw a media horde surrounding his locker at the Rangers’ practice facility in Greenburgh on Friday. He knew when he sat down and looked up at the television cameras, voice recorders and notepads inches from his face that he’d be asked about facing the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals, the team with which he made a name for himself, the team he built a Hall-of-Fame resume with and the team he helped to its only Stanley Cup title in 2004.
There should already be a lot of fuel in the fire, St. Louis said, playing in a conference final in and of itself. His comments were measured as he claimed he was approaching the best-of-seven series as if he were facing any other team. Except he didn’t spend roughly 13 seasons with any other team; he didn’t wear a “C” on his sweater with another NHL club. His past with the Lightning, he acknowledged, is no secret.
“Obviously I have a lot of friends on the other side,” St. Louis said. “Not so much players. I probably have more friends in the training staff and all that. There’s a lot of new players on that team since I’ve been there. I know obviously the history and everybody’s obviously gonna make a story out of it, and rightfully so, but for me it’s just a team that’s standing in my way right now. I’m gonna try to help my team do everything to win.”
It’s hard to believe the 39-year-old St. Louis won’t enter this series, which begins with Game 1 Saturday at 1 p.m. at Madison Square Garden, without a whirlwind of emotions, even if he says he’s not thinking about his time in Tampa and how it ended. He spent a third of his life with the Lightning before his relationship with general manager and former Red Wing great Steve Yzerman became so frayed because of his 2010 Olympic snub and his exclusion from the initial 2014 Olympic roster that he requested a trade to the Rangers, his position with the Lightning becoming untenable.
He said he didn’t know what would happen if he saw Yzerman in a hallway in this series. He says he’s moved on. He doesn’t know if people on the other side have. “I can’t worry about that right now,” St. Louis said.
That much can be believed, because his biggest worry likely is his play on the ice. St. Louis, who has played 100 playoff games in his career, hasn’t scored a goal in 12 games this postseason. His .33 points-per-game so far this postseason is by far the worst of his career. St. Louis felt he played well in the second round against Washington, but he was benched for the second half of the third period in Wednesday’s Game 7 victory before returning for overtime. “I trust A.V.’s judgment,” St. Louis said, referring to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
Another Vigneault judgment is that Tampa goalie Ben Bishop’s 8-0 career record and 1.49 goals-against average (GAA) against the Rangers means little. Bishop has impressed in his first postseason with a 1.81 GAA and .931 save percentage, although his counterpart Henrik Lundqvist is tops among playoff goalies who have played a full series in GAA (1.60) and save percentage (.944.) “When we went into Montreal last year in the playoffs, everyone was bringing up Hank’s (poor) record against Montreal,” Vigneault said. “Didn’t have that much of an impact.”
St. Louis said he was flattered that he’s highly regarded in Tampa’s locker room, but now’s not a time for friendship.
“This is playoff hockey,” he said. “We have the rest of our lives to be friends. This is right now a team that’s in our way of getting where we want to be.”
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