Off a stunning goal from veteran center Dominic Moore, the New York Rangers own a 1-0 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning entering Monday’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden.
Moore has never put up big numbers in either the regular or postseason, but his clutch play has littered the Rangers’ latest deep playoff runs. He sent New York into the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years with the Game 6 winner over the Montreal Canadiens last season, and his shin deflection of right wing Kevin Hayes’ shot attempt caught Lightning keeper Ben Bishop off guard in Game 1 with under three minutes remaining for the 2-1 victory.
“This time of the year, the way he plays, he becomes even more important,” Rangers veteran Martin St. Louis told the New York Post of Moore. “He’s a guy that can really grind it out and be tough to play against. He brings a lot of pucks to the net and protects the puck really well. I’ve had a chance to play with him in Tampa in the playoffs. This is the kind of play we need from everyone, but I’m glad today he gets rewarded. He deserves that.”
Capped by Moore’s presence of mind to crash the Lightning net, the win not only put the Rangers in line to secure their second straight 2-0 lead in the conference finals but also boosted their confidence against a Tampa Bay squad that swept their three-game regular season series by a combined 15-7.
New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist got the loss in all three of those meetings, but managed to finally overcome the Lightning’s No. 1-ranked offense at the best possible time. The Swedish star notched 23 saves off the 24 shots he faced in Game 1 for his ninth win of the postseason.
It was a matchup that went down to the wire and looked like it was headed to overtime before Moore’s miracle kick at the net. It also marked the first time Bishop lost to the Rangers in his short career, with a now 8-1-0 record.
In his first postseason, Bishop has allowed 1.82 goals per game and had a .931 save percentage but couldn't prevent Moore's game winner. The Lightning wouldn’t blame the 6-foot-7 Denver native for the opening-game loss.
"(Bishop) was our best player," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said to the Tampa Bay Tribune. "He kept us in it."
Bishop was merely the victim of a Rangers attack that came out much more aggressive from the get-go, firing off 11 shots to Tampa Bay’s seven in the opening period, and he wound up facing six more attempts than Lundqvist with New York’s defense extending Lightning top scorer and center Tyler Johnson’s scoreless streak to four straight. In the two previous series, Johnson lit up the Detroit Red Wings and Canadiens for eight goals, and is emerging as a surprise star.
It’s not the first deficit the Lightning and head coach Jon Cooper have faced this postseason. They dropped Game 1 to Detroit in the first round, and eventually fell behind 2-1 and 3-2 before claiming the last two games. Cooper even said he thought Game 1 was very close, but credited the Rangers for generating 10 takeaways.
“For two periods I thought we were a little bit better than we were until I watched the tape,” Cooper told reporters. “I think the Rangers played extremely well, but there are so many things, like we just kept stubbing our toe all night.
“So we were just handing them tickets to the movie, and we were a turnstile and watching them go by. We can't do that. We can't be giving pucks away, we can't be turning them over, we can't not make them go the 200 feet.”
Start Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Live Online: A live stream is available at NBC Sports Live Extra
Betting Odds: Rangers -250, o/v 4.5 goals
Prediction: Lightning over Rangers, 3-1