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St. Louis out tonight after puck to face

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- Martin St. Louis left the Madison Square Garden ice Thursday morning bleeding from his left eye area after a teammate backhanded a shot into his face during practice. He was taken to a nearby hospital for examination and will not play Thursday night against the Rangers in what was scheduled to be his 500th consecutive game.

"It's a difficult loss for the team, but you know what? It's an opportunity for guys to step up," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said this morning.

The team said Thursday evening that St. Louis suffered facial and nose fractures and will be out indefinitely. He will return to Tampa and will be evaluated by team physicians when the swelling around his left eye subsides.

The incident happened early in practice. St. Louis was circling behind the net when teammate Dominic Moore missed the net with a backhander and caught St. Louis near the eye. The Lightning's second-leading scorer skated to the bench and was immediately helped to the locker room by a trainer.

"It's one of those plays," a remorseful Moore said afterward.

It's a devastating blow for a team that has dropped five straight games and nine of 12 overall. The Lightning are already without defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Pavel Kubina due to injuries, but the loss of St. Louis is both crippling and unexpected. He had played in 499 consecutive games.

"It just keeps on pouring," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

The Lightning are coming off a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. Boucher gave his team the day off Wednesday after losses on back-to-back days, but he put his players through their paces Thursday at a morning skate that was far more intense than usual.

"If you don't put in the dedication and commitment here, you're of no use to me," Boucher shouted at his players before ending the practice by telling his team, "It has to be better than this … and it will be."

The message from Boucher was emphatic, but he said it wasn't anything he doesn't say at different times during the season.

"It's because it hasn't been on the ice in front of everybody," Boucher said when a reporter asked if his demeanor had anything to do with the recent losing skid. "It's because we don't get practice time."

But Boucher admitted that the injury to St. Louis made him change his tone.

"To be honest with you, with what happened to Marty, I know what's happening," Boucher said, referring to his team sagging at the sight of one of their leaders leaving the ice with a severe injury. "It's another one, you know? And it's probably the biggest blow you can get on our team right there. I am the leader. I can't show that we're going into this battle with our heads down. It's already going to be as difficult as it can be playing a top team. If we get down on ourselves and feel sorry for ourselves, we're cooked. You have to be tough."

St. Louis has been a rock for the Lightning. He's third on a team that has trouble scoring with nine goals. He won the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy in 2004 as the Lightning won their first Stanley Cup, and he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy last season.

Steven Stamkos understands what the loss of St. Louis means to a struggling team and why Boucher would amp up practice.

"When things aren't going well, you have to make sure guys are ready to compete and never quit," Stamkos said. "That was the message here. We need to do things better and get out of this little slide that we're in."

All the Lightning can do is move forward, but it doesn’t make the loss of St. Louis any easier to swallow.

"He's been playing extremely well," Yzerman said. "Bad things happen at the worst time."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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