He has given his sweat, and he has given his blood. He has fought tooth and nail, especially tooth. After a season of being his team's best player, he has spent a week of the postseason being his team's best player.

Given all that, how can the Lightning possibly ask for more from Marty St. Louis?

On the other hand, given the circumstances, how can it not?

The Lightning needs him now because it trails its playoff series with Pittsburgh two games to one and a defeat in tonight's game would be difficult to survive. The Lightning needs him now because the rest of the offense has struggled with a Penguins team that has been reborn as a smothering defensive unit. The Lightning needs him now because the rest of the offense is in a lingering slump at the worst possible time.

It needs him now because the game is big, and the moment is crucial, and in such moments, who else has the Lightning ever depended upon more than St. Louis?

This is who he is, and this is what he does. In other places people still talk about his size (listed as 5 feet 8). In other arenas people talk about his age (35). Around here, however, onlookers learned long ago to think of Marty as a big-game memory-making machine. If you need a goal, if you need a play, who has ever been a better bet for the Lightning than St. Louis?

Three games into this series and St. Louis has played as if he is trying to make up for his three seasons away from the playoffs, as if he is intent on seizing the chance before it slips away, as if he is aware of how precious these games are. He has three goals in his past two games, each of them more important than the other.

What will he do tonight?

We'll see.

"He's a clutch player," said Lighting coach Guy Boucher. "The more pressure there is, the better. That's Marty.

"I just think he's one of those guys whose entire life is based on proving something: As a smaller guy, you can be a top scorer. Not just a pro, but a top scorer. I just think life is a challenge for him every day."