TAMPA -- It's Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos against the Florida Panthers on Saturday -- or at least it seems that way, as the last bit of excitement for two teams that end their season with this game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum centers around St. Louis' pursuit of the Art Ross Trophy for most points in the NHL and Stamkos' quest for the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals.
Make no mistake, the entire Tampa Bay Lightning squad will be on hand, but mostly just to assist both players in their pursuits.
"They are talented players and we'd be lying to say that it's not in the back of our minds," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "In the last game of the year, if we can ultimately get two players to be recognized for how they played all year and their accomplishments, we'll do our best to help them out."
Will that aid take the form of additional ice time?
"I don't know how much more ice time I can give them," Cooper said. "They play on the power play, penalty kill and 5-on-5."
St. Louis' run at the Art Ross Trophy takes on some added significance because he would be oldest player, two months shy of his 38th birthday, to win the award. He would be eliminating the immortal Gordie Howe from the record books, the current oldest player to win the Ross Trophy, who was 34 when he earned it in 1963.
"I guess to be the oldest to win it in the history of the League, that would be pretty cool," St. Louis said. "I'm trying not to think ahead too much and just take care of the game. It's in my mind, I'd lie to you if I said it wasn't, especially now, the last game of the year. I just have to give myself a chance."
Stamkos, his linemate, is three goals shy of Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy and interestingly enough, tied with injured Sidney Crosby for second place in the points race, two points back of St. Louis. Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks is lurking three points behind St. Louis.
It is not a stretch to anticipate St. Louis and Stamkos could finish the season 1-2 in the scoring race. The last time two players from the same team finished first and second in scoring was in 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr achieved that feat with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins won their division handily and finished second in the Eastern Conference.
Should the race shake out like that, it would be the second time in NHL history that a team had two players finish first and second in scoring and finished out of the playoffs. The 1948-49 Chicago Blackhawks, led by Roy Conacher and Doug Bentley, who finished atop the scoring race with 68 and 66 points respectively, were the other team to pull off that ignoble feat.
For Stamkos, the chance for accolades doesn't compensate for the absence of postseason play.
"You don't really think about it too much once the game starts," Stamkos said. "Hopefully you get your chances and capitalize on them. Obviously, trying to get Marty the points tonight is something that is on everyone's mind. It'll be a fun night and hopefully cap off the year on a positive. It's tough to think of positive things when you're not successful. You plan to be in the playoffs before the year and then when you're not, it really is tough to find positives."
For the rest of the Lightning, Saturday's game will be a matter of trying to get the puck to their two scoring stars. But really, isn't that the way it has been every game this season?
"I think that's probably the word every night," defenseman Keith Aulie said. "St. Louis and Stamkos are pretty talented with the puck, so I guess you could say that every night. It's in everyone's mind; I think we all realize that for them to have their best games we have to support them. If we don't play well as a team, it's tough for those guys to get much space for themselves."
Injured: D Erik Gudbranson (upper body), D Dmitry Kulikov (upper body), D Ed Jovanovski (hip), RW Kris Versteeg (knee), C Stephen Weiss (wrist), G Jose Theodore (groin), LW Sean Bergenheim (groin), LW Eric Selleck (upper body)
Scratched: Mathieu Garon
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