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Vincent Lecavalier credits linemate's determination for his better play

The Tampa Bay Lightning forward opened the season with six goals in his first 11 games. Since then he has caught fire and leads the league with 39 goals in 61 games while his 81 points are second only to Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby. Lecavalier credits his scoring success to linemate Martin St. Louis.

"Just playing with Marty makes things so much easier," the native of Ile-Bizard, Que., said during an NHL conference call Wednesday. "He's such a determined player. He's very demanding of his linemates and his teammates.

"I think since I started getting a little bit more consistent we've really been pushing each other. It's been working very well."

St. Louis is second in goals with 36 and third in scoring with 80 points, giving the Lightning one of the most feared one-two punches since Mike Tyson.

The Lightning have also turned things around as a team.

Back on Dec. 16, Tampa Bay's record was a dismal 14-17-2. Since then the Lightning have gone a tear, going 20-8-2 to wipe out a 15-point deficit and overtake the Atlanta Thrashers for first place in the Southeast Division.

The Lightning and Thrashers both have 71 points but Tampa Bay gets the edge because their 34-24-3 records gives them three more wins.

Back in December Lecavalier had his doubts if the Lightning could catch the Thrashers.

"To be honest my answer would be probably not," he laughed. "In December we were struggling and a little bit behind them and not as consistent as we are now.

"Once we started winning, maybe we started putting doubts in people's minds."

The Lightning soon gained momentum like a rock rolling down a hill.

"Once you start rolling, with a couple of games, you build your confidence," said Lecavalier. "After that it just snowballs and it never stops."

The biggest difference between then and now is the whole team is playing well.

"Our goalie is very solid and our offence is going very well," said the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft. "We kind of got everything together for the first time in the season.

"At the beginning of the season it was up and down. Sometimes the goalie was hot and the scorers weren't going. It really seems the last month and a half the things have been going well as a team."

Even though Lecavalier doesn't turn 27 for another two months he is in his eighth season with Tampa Bay. He already has surpassed his career highs of 35 goals and 75 points set last season.

It remains to be seen if he can maintain the scoring pace to win the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal scorer.

"I'm sure some guys will go on hot streaks," Lecavalier said. 'I just want to finish strong. If it happens, it happens.

"My main goal is for Tampa to win our division."

Lecavalier has been noticed for more than his skills on the ice. On Tuesday he received the Mark Messier Leadership Award for his charity work.

Lecavalier has a foundation that supports children's hospitals in the Tampa Bay area. He also helps raise money in Rimouski, Que., where he played his junior hockey, to help children purchase hockey equipment.

"People were great to me in Rimouski," he said. "For me to give back to kids that don't have enough money to buy skates, that's a thing I really wanted to be part of."

As good as the Lightning have been lately, Lecavalier thinks they will need to be better if they hope for a repeat of their 2004 Stanley Cup championship.

"I think we've been struggling the last couple of games," he said. "Even if we won some of them, we haven't been playing our best.

"We have to finish strong and make sure we get into that same mode once we get into the playoffs. We're confident and we know what we are doing."


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