Rangers strike first against Lightning in Eastern final
Rangers centre Dominic Moore (left) celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) during the third period in Game 1 of the NHL's Eastern Conference Final in New York on Saturday, May 16, 2015. (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
What’s surprising is not that the Rangers were in another one-goal playoff game, nor that they came out on top, nor that it took them until late in the proceedings to pull it off.
All that is as trendy as this spring’s styles in Manhattan’s Garment District.
What’s surprising is not even that the deciding goal in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to kick off the Eastern Conference Final was scored by a 34-year old third line centre who is on his 10th NHL team in nine seasons.
What is surprising, however, is that it was Dominic Moore’s first of this post-season tournament. With how good he’s been thus far, you had to double-check the stats because you would have sworn he had more.
“At this time of the year, the way he plays, he becomes even more important,” said Martin St. Louis, who lined up with Moore and Carl Hagelin in Game 1. “He’s a guy that can really grind it out and be tough to play against, brings a lot of puck to the net, protects the puck really well. I had a chance to play with him in Tampa, in the playoffs, and he was a key contributor then. Last year, he was a key contributor and again this year.
“This is the kind of play we need from everybody. I’m glad that Moorsie gets rewarded tonight.”
Moore’s reward arrived with 2:25 left in the third period, or a second after he appeared on the edge of Ben Bishop’s crease. Rookie Kevin Hayes did the gift wrapping with some strong work along the back boards as former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan followed him like a shadow. From near the left wing boards, just beyond the goal line, Hayes sent a knee-high shot towards the front that bounced in off Moore’s right shin pad, just as he was blindsiding Lightning defenceman Anton Stralman to the ice.
Moore celebrated with the proper amount of emotion befitting such a huge tally, especially from a guy who could have been the goat as only 30 seconds earlier he had stepped out of the box after serving a penalty for tripping Stralman.
“I think it’s just a matter of wanting to win,” Moore said when asked about his elevated excitement level. “It’s a fun time of year for us. Everyone in this room relishes playing in these games, and it’s a good thing to enjoy it.”
This promised to be an enjoyable, close series and Game 1 certainly lived up to the billing. Both goalies were sharp despite modest shot counts, with Bishop making 28 saves and Henrik Lundqvist 23. In fact, it looked like the teams would enter the third in a scoreless tie before a puck that had twice been directed at the net and neither time made it squirted to Derek Stepan -- at precisely the same spot of ice he was in when he scored the OT winner in Game 7 against Washington -- and he fired it past Bishop 12.7 seconds from the intermission.
“It’s just how the goals are scored in the playoffs,” said Stepan. “You don’t see too many tic-tac-toe plays. You kind of have to get the ugly ones and that’s where they’re going to be scored, around the net.”
Stepan is right, of course, but the exception was the equalizer by Ondrej Palat with the Lightning on a power play at 6:45 of the third. Palat was posted near the top of the right wing circle when he one-timed a pass from Tyler Johnson that somehow snuck through the smallest of openings, under the bar and past Lundqvist’s left arm.
The words “what a shot” were echoed in the press box.
The Bolts weren’t happy with the way they started the game. They turned the puck over too much in the first and didn’t get enough attempts at the Rangers goal all game.
But the Rangers won because they were able to get the ugly goals, the playoff goals, that Tampa couldn’t muster up. They won because this was a Dominic Moore type of a game, and Rangers coach Alain Vigneault knew it, giving his gritty journeyman 17:13 of ice time compared to only 16 minutes for top regular season scorer Rick Nash.
“I’m all about preparation and I can see him almost being like a goalie with everything he does in preparing himself to get into the right place before going into a game,” said Lundqvist, who broke into the league the same year as Moore. “He brings his game to a level that he’s helping the team in face-offs and making great plays. And now he’s getting more ice time, and he deserves it.”
STAMKOS: WE NEED MORE SHOTS
According to Steven Stamkos, the Lightning need to put more pucks toward the net.
It starts with him.
A 43-goal scorer, 268-shot man during the regular season, Stamkos tested Henrik Lundqvist just once in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final. He didn't have any blocked, and only fired one that missed the target.
The Lightning were outshot 30-24 in the 2-1 loss to the Rangers.
"To be honest, I don't think we tested Lundqvist as much as we should have," said Stamkos. "Not a lot of quality shots, not a lot of shots period. We have to find a way to be better and generate more. Two good goaltenders, so we can't expect to put a couple past a goal of that calibre with the minimal chances we had."
What can happen when a puck is sent in the general direction of the cage was illustrated on both New York goals, especially the winner by Dominic Moore. If Kevin Hayes' "set up" hadn't hit Moore's leg, the puck would have stopped at the side boards.
"That was a little bit of a flukey goal at the end, but that's what happens when you throw pucks at the net," said Stamkos.
Tampa coach Jon Cooper had a similar take on the game.
"We'd like to have the first period back, no question," he said. "I thought we played tight, they were on us. We were probably a little bit fortunate we got to the room (for the first intermission) tied. After that, it was anybody's game.
"There were big spurts in the game where we had them hemmed in. I don't think we shot the puck enough. I don't think we attempted enough shots."
While the Rangers have now been involved in 15 consecutive one-goal playoff games, Cooper doesn't see that changing.
"That game is probably what this series is going to be like," he said. "It pretty much was almost an overtime affair. To get the win with two minutes left is a tough one for us to swallow, but now that the first one is through, we'll see what we can do in Game 2."