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Rangers' St. Louis all business with Lightning on tap

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Martin St. Louis walked into the New York Rangers dressing room following practice Friday to find a swell of cameras and reporters forming a crowded semicircle around his stall, so big the media invaded space reserved for goalie Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Dan Girardi.

Under normal circumstances the media wouldn't be looking to document every word said by a player who has no goals in 12 games in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but these aren't normal circumstances for St. Louis heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at Madison Square Garden (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

St. Louis played 972 games with the Lightning from 2000 until he was traded to the Rangers on March 5, 2014. He won the Stanley Cup and Hart Trophy as a member of the Lightning in 2004, and  twice finished as the NHL's regular-season scoring champ.

St. Louis was the one of the faces and arguably the heart and soul of the Lightning for nearly a decade and a half as the undrafted, small right wing who built a Hall of Fame resume. Now he has to go up against his former team and teammates for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

If his emotions are running high, he's not letting it show publicly.

"This is a conference final and I'm trying to approach it as any other team," St. Louis said.

"I obviously know the history and everybody is going to obviously make a story out of it, and rightfully so, but for me it's just a team that is standing in my way right now. I'm going to try to help my team do everything to win."

St. Louis said he still has many friends who will be on the other side in this Eastern Conference Final, but he said a lot of them are members of the Lightning training staff.

"There's been a lot of new players on that team since I've been there," he said.

Three of those new players are defenseman Anton Stralman and forwards Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle; they played for the Rangers last season.

Callahan was sent to Tampa Bay in the trade that brought St. Louis to New York. Stralman and Boyle went to the Cup Final with the Rangers last season before signing with the Lightning as free agents.

None of them had the lasting impact on the Rangers and created the same type of legacy in New York that St. Louis had on the Lightning and crafted in Tampa Bay.

He is Tampa Bay's all-time leader in regular season assists (588) and points (953), and playoff goals (33), points (68) and games played (63, tied with Vincent Lecavalier). He is second behind Lecavalier in regular-season games played (972) and goals (365).

None of that matters right now to St. Louis.

"There are some good people on the other side, there's no doubt about it," St. Louis said. "Like I said, a lot of close friends, but this is playoff hockey. We've got 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."

It will be interesting to see how or if St. Louis' feelings change when the series shifts to Tampa for Games 3 and 4 next week. His divorce from the Lightning wasn't pretty.

St. Louis reportedly asked Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman for a trade and requested only the Rangers.

Yzerman was able to make it happen with a return of Callahan, the Rangers first-round draft pick in 2015 and a conditional second-round pick in 2014 that turned into a first-round pick once the Rangers made the Eastern Conference Final last season. New York received Tampa Bay's second-round pick in 2015 when Callahan re-signed with the Lightning this summer.

St. Louis said he's moved on. Asked if he thinks Lightning fans have, he wasn't sure.

"I don't know," St. Louis said. "Can't worry about that right now."

What St. Louis can worry about is his game. He hasn't scored in this season's playoffs despite playing on the Rangers' top line with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard in the second round. Coach Alain Vigneault benched St. Louis for the final 10:03 of the third period of Game 7 against Washington but he played in overtime.

St. Louis has four assists and 23 shots on goal in the playoffs. He didn't have a shot on goal in three of the last four games against Washington, including Games 6 and 7.

Martin St. Louis
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 4
SOG: 23 | +/-: 3
"I thought I played some good hockey early on in that series, didn't get rewarded, but overall I feel good about my game," St. Louis said. "Of course coaches make decisions at key times in the game for whatever reason. I've never liked being left on the bench at certain times, but that's just reality. If I liked it I don't think I would be here today. Nobody likes that. But right now I'm focusing on Game 1 and helping my team win. I'm not too worried about what happened toward the end of that game. I trust [Vigneault's] judgment."

Vigneault said the Rangers need more from St. Louis, Nash and Brassard, who combined for three goals and seven assists in the second round. St. Louis had three assists.

"Obviously when you talk about Marty St. Louis, Rick Nash and Derick Brassard, you're thinking three strong, offensive players," Vigneault said. "Can we get a little bit more out of them? I think we need a little bit more out of our whole group. If our intentions, and I believe they are, are to race to four and get there first, we're going to need everybody stepping up their game. Marty is no different than anybody else on our team."

Except in this series he really is, at least in terms of a storyline to follow.St. Louis playing against the Lightning for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Final? It's certainly unique.

"I have a lot of respect for the organization over there, they've treated me really well," St. Louis said. "But this is not the time to reflect on that. This is the time to go play some conference final playoff hockey."

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