In Game 7 against the Washington Capitals, Dominic Moore did everything but score for the New York Rangers. His forechecking was formidable, he found multiple opportunities, mustered three shots on goal, but didn’t find the score sheet. But in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, it was Moore, again having an incredible outing, who came up big when the Rangers needed it most.
The Lightning and Rangers had battled to a 1-1 tie through most of the contest when Moore, who had been serving a minor penalty for tripping less than a minute earlier, cut to the net and had teammate Kevin Hayes’ centering attempt ricochet off his shin pads and behind Tampa Bay netminder Ben Bishop. Moore’s goal made it 2-1 for the Rangers, a score that would hold as New York took a 1-0 series lead.
Through 12 post-season games coming into Saturday afternoon’s tilt, Moore had not yet managed to find the back of the net despite firing 21 pucks on goal. It only makes sense, then, that Moore, who has made his living playing bottom-six minutes and performing admirably in a checking role, scored his first playoff tally of the year by simply driving to the net and catching a good bounce.
As for the game itself, it was one in which the Lightning are going to need to forget quickly. The dying moments of the game felt like a microcosm of the entire afternoon for Tampa Bay as at every turn passes were incomplete, bobbled or otherwise off target. One of the regular season’s most explosive teams, the Lightning were unable to get sustained pressure often during the contest and the few times they did – namely on the four power play opportunities they were awarded – they had difficulty getting pucks through to the net.
Of the few chances the Lightning did have to score, Ondrej Palat’s third-period power play goal was the only one to connect. After Rangers blueliner Ryan McDonagh took a high-sticking call for clipping Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson, the Lightning power play went to work and it was Johnson who spotted a wide-open Palat for a one-time goal that evened the score at one apiece.
As for underlying statistics, while one game can be an aberration and certainly does not mean much for the course of the series, there is a troubling trend happening for the Lightning. During the regular season, the club had some of the league’s best possession numbers, but in the post-season they’ve struggled mightily.
In the first round against a good possession team in Detroit, Tampa Bay barely came out on top in shot attempts for percentage, holding a 51 percent to 49 percent edge. Against a weak possession team in Montreal in the second round, the Lightning were dominated as the Canadiens got 55.1 percent of the shot attempts at even strength. That has continued into this series as the Rangers, not necessarily an advanced statistical darling, carried play at 5-on-5, firing 57 shot attempts to the Lightning’s 40. Continuing to allow that many pucks toward the net in subsequent games likely won’t result in many victories. If Bishop has to continue to be as outstanding as he has been this post-season, that’s a risky proposition for Tampa Bay.
It’s not that Bishop is incapable of continuing his stellar play, but rather that continuing to rely on goaltending to pick up victories isn’t quite the way to win.
For the Rangers, however, this has somehow been the story of the club for the entire season and it’s continuing into the third round. When they need to win, they’ve managed to find a way. Derek Stepan’s overtime winner in Game 7 against Washington came from a fortuitous bounce in the Rangers favor. Moore’s goal came from pure drive to the net. And along the way, Henrik Lundqvist has been his usual steady self to give New York every opportunity to capitalize on their chances.
For the Rangers, it’s three more wins and back to the Stanley Cup final for the second year in a row. For the Lightning, it’s regroup and try to find a spark in time for Monday’s Game 2.