NEW YORK -- Dominic Moore is not an NHL headliner like goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, his best friend on the New York Rangers, or Tampa Bay Lightning scoring star Steven Stamkos. He's not the Rangers' best goal scorer or passer or forechecker, either, although he's a pretty good faceoff man. He generally plays on the fourth of the Rangers' four lines, which is the inglorious NHL equivalent of working the overnight shift, because you never know how much action you're going to get and it's not tolerated if you complain.
But what the 34-year-old Moore has excelled at most in his nine NHL stops is making himself indispensable -- especially come playoff time. And Moore did it again Saturday in the waning minutes of the Rangers' dramatic 2-1 Eastern Conference finals Game 1 win against the Lightning, in the most spectacularly unspectacular way possible: By jumping out of the penalty box to lead a 3-on-1 rush down the ice, muffing a drop pass to Derick Brassard, but then being smart enough to sneak to the right post behind former Rangers defensman Anton Stralman as Kevin Hayes recovered the puck and came barreling out from behind the other side of the net.
Hayes fended off a check from Ryan Callahan, another former Ranger, and snapped a pass across the crease that banked off Moore's shinpad and into the net with two minutes and 25 seconds left to keep the Rangers' streak alive as the kings of the one-goal win.
It also further polished Moore's reputation as a guy who tends to show up bigger than ever come playoff time.
"Yeah, I don't know -- I couldn't tell you why," Moore said, shrugging and swigging from a bottle of water in the dressing room afterward. "Except I've always loved the intensity."
The Rangers have now played 13 straight postseasons games decided by just one goal. When asked if by now they feel "comfortable" dealing with such small margins for error, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault smiled a little and suggested the better word choice is: "Challenging. [At least] for the coach."
"The first period, I mean, we got some Grade-A looks," he added, "and it was still nothing-nothing. Sort of used to that. Dom has done a lot of good things for us throughout the season, so to see him get that goal, the benefit of that bounce, hard work pays off."
It was the sort of bounce that happens all the time during the NHL playoffs. But definitely not the sort of finish you would've expected the Rangers to need after that first-period blitz they threw at Tampa Bay, and the way they outplayed them for significant stretches the rest of the game.
But the Lightning have excellent team speed and like to sprint and dash up and down the ice, playing the same wide-open game the Rangers do. Tampa Bay was first in the NHL in scoring this year, and New York was not far behind at No. 3. You just wouldn't know it lately. The Rangers are still generating a lot of terrific chances but just can't seem to finish opportunities and get the puck in the net. You keep wondering when -- if ever -- it will catch up to them.
It was true in their first-round series against Pittsburgh, true in their seven-game nail-biter against Washington, and true again on Saturday. Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop stands 6-foot-7, which can't be a welcome change after the Rangers just barely survived Washington's Braden Holtby. At times when the Rangers eyed the net Saturday, looking for a place to shoot, it must've seemed like Bishop blotted out nearly all available daylight. Even when he's on his knees, he seems tall.
"He played extremely well. ... He's in a zone," said Derek Stepan, who scored the Rangers' first goal by tapping in a loose puck inches away from the left post after Chris Kreider whirled and put a shot on net.
As for Moore, the tighter the spaces, the harder the fights for the puck, the more it seems like his kind of game.
"This time of year, the way he plays, he becomes even more important because he's a guy that can really grind it out and be tough to play against," said Rangers vet Martin St. Louis, who played his first playoff game against the Lightning, the team he captained for so many years before demanding the trade to New York that sent Callahan to Tampa Bay.
Moore and St. Louis used to play together for the Lightning before landing with the Rangers. Moore has also made previous NHL stops in Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Buffalo, Montreal, Florida and San Jose. His biggest moment in last season's playoffs came when he scored the goal that sent the Rangers into the Stanley Cup finals opposite the Los Angeles Kings, in what was his first full season back since taking a year off to deal with the death of his wife from liver cancer.
The Rangers went on to lose in the finals, though. They're still looking for their first Cup win since 1994. The more the games stay this tight, the more the Rangers will probably expect the unexpected from Moore.
"You don't plan on it, but it's a good thing when you know how to play these games," Moore said.
"They're not for the faint of heart, for sure."