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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: No surprise, but ‘C’ fits for Bolts’ St. Louis

TAMPA — The “C” fits.

It was the first time he’d skated in front of a home crowd while wearing it. His was the last name announced during pregame introductions at the Tampa Bay Lightning home opener Thursday night. ...

... Captain Marty St. Louis.

It’s about time.

Look, everyone knew it was going to be 26 after Vinny Lecavalier was bought out.

And everyone knows it will eventually be Steven Stamkos wearing hockey’s magic letter.

But this matters to Marty St. Louis, in the twilight, or any light, since becoming the NHL’s oldest scoring champion last season, at age 37. He hip-checked that twilight deal into the boards.

So did Thursday night.

St. Louis, who has broken well in his 13th Lightning season, had another three points. He scored the Bolts’ first goal, from Stamkos and Teddy Purcell, and assisted on the second, feeding Stamkos for 91’s first of three Thursday, his sixth career hat trick, in a rip-roaring 7-2 Lightning win over the Florida Panthers.

I have no idea what the Lightning will do this season, if they’ll live down to the dire predictions that have them near the bottom of their new division and conference. They’re 3-1 right now, but remember, they began last season 6-1 — and before the season was over, there was a new coach.

No matter, Ws or Ls, something seems right about this C.

“I’m honored to be a captain,” St. Louis said. “Not many guys play in the NHL. Not many guys get to experience what I’ve experienced. Now, a chance to be a captain, it’s special to me.”

Not that he wasn’t de facto captain the last several seasons, no matter what Vinny’s sweater said. I think Marty had checked most everything off his to-do list.

The first was making it, undrafted, undersized, under appreciated. There was the first scoring title and the Hart season, which was also the Cup season, which was no coincidence.

St. Louis will play his 1,000th NHL game this season, or should. He’s at 983. He might get his 1,000th NHL point. He’s at 917. It’s all within reach for 26, including the Hall of Fame.

This is about the here and now. Let’s remember that the Lightning were a complete mess last season, with the third-fewest points in the league.

To the captain we go.

“I feel we have a few guys who are ready to take a step in their careers,” St. Louis said Thursday morning. “We might get a chance to see that this year, make a statement as far as where their careers are at.”

It will take more from this team, a lot more than 26 and 91, even a lot more from 26 and 91.

“It takes more than skill,” St. Louis said.

Mind you, we saw skill Thursday, from St. Louis to Stamkos to Vinny replacement Valterri Filppula, who added two third-period goals, on a wrister and a sweet back-hander.

Back to the captain:

“This league, there are so many skill players, but it’s not about skill. It isn’t. It’s about five guys on the ice working together. We’ve scored plenty of goals in this league the last few years. It’s how do we keep it out of our net? Yes, we talk about goaltending. But in the NHL, defense starts with five guys in front of him. If he has to make grade A chances all the time, it won’t work. If we win, it’s not going to be because of our skill. Because if it was, we would have already won.”

Here comes Marty St. Louis, again. The second half of this season, 2014, will mark 10 years since he lifted the Cup. He and his teammates made it to within a win of the finals in 2011. But the Lightning have missed the playoffs five of the last six years.

“I’m not getting any younger,” St. Louis said.

Who’s he kidding?

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