NEW YORK – To call Dominic Moore an inspirational player would be understating it.
Moore has played with nine different NHL teams since debuting in 2004 with the New York Rangers. He’s never averaged more than 17 minutes a night, never scored more than 18 goals. He’s a great faceoff man, a grinding forward and a penalty killer.
His work ethic is his calling card, as much as his determination and heart – even when that heart is heavy with grief, as it was in 2013 when his wife Katie Moore died of cancer at 32 and Dominic Moore took a year away from hockey.
He takes nothing for granted.
“For me, this is the fourth time in the last five years in the conference final. I don’t take lightly being in these games,” said Moore after scoring the game-winning goal for the Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, having also made the penultimate round with the 2010 Montreal Canadiens, the 2011 Tampa Bay Lightning and last year’s Stanley Cup Final runner up from New York. “We worked heard to earn this opportunity.”
The Rangers don’t take Moore for granted.
“He’s very trustworthy as a player. You know what you’re going to get every night,” said captain Ryan McDonagh.
“He's a true pro, I think,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “He had it early on. My rookie year was his rookie year. I'm all about preparation, and I can see him almost being like a goalie with everything he does and preparing himself to get into the right place going into every game. I think that's why he's been so consistent throughout his career, as well. He brings his game to a level that he's helping the team every night in face-offs and making great plays.”
Moore’s game-winner late in the third period, giving the Rangers Game 1 against the Lightning by a 2-1 count, may not fall into the “great play” category. It was a Kevin Hayes pass that bounced off the knee of Moore and past Ben Bishop; the first goal of the playoffs for Moore.
“It's the playoffs, isn't it? The beauties that you see in the regular season often times don't show up in the playoffs,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper.
“Give them credit. They drove the net. They had guys buzzing around down there and they got the break. In a game like that, that's how it was going to end up, who was going to get the last one at the end. And unfortunately for us, they got it.”
It was the kind of goal Moore specializes in: In the trenches, around the net, being hounded by the opposing defense.
“He plays a greasy kind of game. Tough to play against,” said Marty St. Louis of the Rangers.
“Guys that play with him understand how he plays. Killing penalties, winning faceoffs … he doesn’t get a lot of the accolades and glory but his teammates appreciate him.”
(Of course, Moore couldn't help on the Lightning's last power play, as he sat in the box for a tripping call against former teammate Anton Stralman. The Rangers killed it off.)
St. Louis was added to Moore’s wing in Game 1, along with Carl Hagelin, and the results were stellar for coach Alain Vigneault: They were the best line on the ice in the first period, and helped the Rangers dominate the Lightning at 5-on-5. Moore finished with a 65.2 percent corsi for the game at 5-on-5.
(The addition of Kevin Hayes to the line of Rick Nash and Derick Brassard was also palpable, as Hayes finished with a 74.07 corsi percentage at even strength, his line producing 20 chances to the Bolts’ seven.)
Moore saw copious amounts of the “Triplets” line for the Lightning, with NHL leading playoff goal-scorer Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. That line was the offensive engine for the Lightning in the previous round; while they were dangerous in Game 1, they didn't score at 5-on-5.
“In the second we gave them some room, and that’s the nature of the long change. Towards the end there, there were some opportunities to gain the zone,” said McDonagh, who was also matched against them. “But whoever was out there, as a unit of five, did a good job with the back pressure, getting it out of their hands before they get here.”
St. Louis agreed: “When you’re out there against them, he have to have your head on a swivel.”
The Triplets converted on the power play. But they were outscored by Moore at even strength, the result of the Rangers center’s overall effort, all game long.
He set the workrate for the Rangers, and helped them take a 1-0 advantage in the series.
“To see him get that goal, benefit of that bounce,” said Vingeault, “[is to see that] hard work pays off.”
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