LOS ANGELES -- A lot of time has been devoted to dissecting how defenseman Dan Girardi felt in the wake of the New York Rangers’ overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1: He was devastated, obviously, because of his costly mistake that led to Justin Williams’ game-winning goal.
But there was someone else on his team feeling pretty awful himself, and for an entirely different reason.
Serving the last game of his two-game suspension for his hit against Montreal Canadiens forward Dale Weise in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, defenseman John Moore had to witness his team drop the series opener while feeling completely helpless.
“It was tough to watch up there. It was really hard,” Moore said after the Rangers’ practice Friday at Staples Center. “We had our chances. Unfortunately, the bounces went the other way, but we were right there. It could’ve gone either way.”
You could hear the eagerness right in his voice, the 23-year-old earnestly wishing there was something he could’ve done to tip the balance in the other direction. He’ll get that chance on Saturday, when he is expected to draw into the lineup for Game 2.
Moore practiced with partner Kevin Klein on the third defensive pairing Friday, with depth defenseman Raphael Diaz skating again with regular scratch Justin Falk. Both are pretty good signs that Moore will jump right back into his regular spot.
“I’m sure [the nerves are] going to be bumping right up until puck drop, but it’s the Stanley Cup, you dream about this your whole life,” Moore said. "If you can’t have fun with this, you’re in the wrong spot. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid and now I get the chance to do it.”
Though Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has been cagey about lineup decisions all throughout the playoffs, he indicated that he is planning to insert Moore back into the lineup. And considering he missed only a pair of games, conditioning is not a concern for the club in throwing him back into action.
“As far as him being ready, I know that if we need him, he will be. He works extremely hard. He's only missed two games,” Vigneault said. “How he's going to respond after being suspended, that question goes to him. I think he'll be fine. He's given us some real important minutes this year and I think he'll be fine.”
For the record, Moore doesn’t anticipate changing anything in his game just because of the two-game ban he incurred for his hit on Weise. The first-time offender does not have the reputation as a head-hunter or a dirty player, and he sees no reason to adapt his approach because of that isolated incident.
“I think all that other stuff, it happened, and I certainly don’t see that affecting the way I play. It’s unfortunate what happened, but it’s hockey first and foremost. I’ve played it my whole life. I don’t see what happened changing my style,” he said.
Just as they rallied around Girardi following the unfortunate bounce on Wednesday night, Moore’s teammates stood behind him as well after he was hit with the suspension. Knowing Moore is the type of player with a sensitive disposition, they wanted to assure him that he’ll move past the incident.
“John, he's a very good person. Not that other guys aren't, but he's the type of guy that it would affect, being suspended,” de facto captain Brad Richards explained. “But that's over with. He's excited now, that the suspension is over. But we talked about it briefly. That stuff happens. It's a play in hockey that he probably would have done something different in hindsight. He's able to play now. We'll move on. Hopefully he can come in and help.”
And if there was any positive to take from having been forced to watch from the press box as Williams sealed Game 1 with his overtime game winner, Moore came away, at the very least, with a nuanced scouting report on what the Kings bring to the table as an elite opponent.
“There wasn’t a lot of open ice out there, that’s for sure. They play really strong as a five-man unit. They came as advertised. The ice was hard to come by, the biggest thing with [the Kings] was, without the puck, you’ve got to work to be there, support the puck carrier. That’s certainly something I’m going to work on here,” he said.
But the tactics are secondary. The Stanley Cup finals are all about heart and energy and emotion. And Moore can’t wait to take part.
“I think at this time of year, the X’s and O’s are always important, but you’re playing for the Cup and it’s all coming from inside now. Sitting out and watching the game, it sucks,” Moore said. “You’re motivated. It’s really just a battle of will this time of year. I’m pumped to hopefully get the chance.”