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St. Louis has much to ponder after Rangers' elimination

NEW YORK -- Is this the end for Martin St. Louis?

If it is, this certainly wasn't the way he wanted to go out, watching his former team -- the team from which he asked to be traded -- celebrating a trip to the Stanley Cup finals on his current team's home ice.

"Oh gosh, I'm not thinking about that right now," St. Louis said when asked about his future in the immediate aftermath of the New York Rangers' 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

"It takes a few days to sink in, that the season is over," St. Louis continued. "Time usually heals things. You'll get a chance to reflect. It's not going to feel good for a while."

St. Louis is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He will be 40 on June 18.

Assuming he doesn't retire, however, it's hard to envision St. Louis remaining with the Rangers unless he takes a significant pay cut. St. Louis made $5 million this season, but Rangers general manager Glen Sather's top priorities entering the offseason probably will be trying to retain restricted free agents Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast. All four of those young forwards figure to be in line for raises.

St. Louis forced a trade to the Rangers last season to give himself another shot at drinking from Lord Stanley's Cup before his career ended. But New York came up three wins shy in 2013-14, and five wins shy in 2014-15.

St. Louis was largely a disappointment throughout the playoffs, recording only one goal and six assists in 19 games. He did not score in his first 15 games, and was demoted to the third line as a result. He was a minus-4 against the Lightning, failing to capitalize on several Grade-A chances throughout the series.

"You always want to do more," St. Louis said. "I mean, the work was there, but the execution on my part probably could've been better for sure."

Last postseason, St. Louis had a huge impact, scoring eight goals with seven assists. His overtime winner in Game 4 against Montreal won't soon be forgotten.

But this postseason was different. St. Louis didn't look much like the 5-foot-8 dynamo who has recorded nearly 400 career goals and over 1,000 career points.

Former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, the player St. Louis was traded for, and the Lightning are moving on.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said shaking hands with St. Louis afterward was bittersweet.

"We didn't talk at all during the series," Stamkos said. "For as close as Marty and I are, we realized the magnitude of this series. We realized when it was over we could go back to talking to each other.

"It was obviously satisfying because we get a chance to go to the final. That was way bigger than the storyline was between the former Rangers and the former Lightning players. But Marty is a competitor, he's a great friend of mine, and I'll always respect him. I told him that. He obviously wished me the best of luck. We'll probably be talking the next couple days. Obviously everyone knows the respect I have for him."

But now St. Louis and his New York teammates are going home. Now he's left to ponder what could've been, what wasn't, and what's next.