NEW YORK -- In between taking the opening faceoff of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final and being sent out to secure a 1-0 win in the final seconds, Dominic Moore scored the deciding goal to send the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
It was a standout performance for Moore, who will be going to the Cup Final for the first time in his 14-season career after the Rangers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in six games Thursday. It's a special and very emotional way to punctuate a two-year period that saw him take a season off from hockey after his wife, Katie, died from fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare form of liver cancer, on Jan. 7, 2013.
"I owe a lot to my teammates for helping me get through this last year and a half," the 33-year-old center said. "I feel tremendously proud to be a part of this team, especially amidst the circumstances going to the Stanley Cup Final."
After taking off the 2012-13 season, Moore decided last summer to sign with the Rangers, the team that drafted him in 2000 and with whom he had played his first two NHL seasons. Almost 11 months later, his remarkable journey will end with a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup.
"I started my career here. It's always been a special place for me. I really enjoyed my time here," Moore said of his decision to return to New York. "[Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist] is a friend. It's great to be back with him."
New York couldn't have asked much more of Moore in the conference final. When Derick Brassard was knocked out of Game 1 by a hard hit from Montreal defenseman Mike Weaver, Moore assumed Brassard's spot between Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello. Moore had an assist on each of his first two shifts with that line in New York's 7-2 Game 1 win.
When Derek Stepan missed Game 4 after Brandon Prust's high hit three nights earlier fractured his jaw, Moore centered New York's top line between Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. Skating in Game 6 with his regular linemates, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett, Moore scored the goal that propelled the Rangers to hockey's grandest stage.
"To get that game-winner, it couldn't happen to a better guy. He deserved that one," Zuccarello said. "He's been working hard all year and been a great teammate. It was nice to see him get that."
The past few weeks have been a remarkable run for a man who has been through personal tragedy. A trip to the Cup Final is a fitting finale for a battle that began long before the 2013-14 season even started.
Through their up-and-down season, the Rangers rallied around Moore. They've done the same for forward Martin St. Louis, a teammate of Moore's with the Tampa Bay Lightning whose mother died May 8, two months after New York acquired him from Tampa Bay in a deal at the NHL Trade Deadline.
"They've found a way to find a place where they can be happy, and that is at the rink with their teammates and on the ice," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "They've both been very inspirational leaders throughout the whole thing. I'm very happy to have them both."
For Boyle, who set up the Game 6 winner, it's been a special opportunity to skate alongside Moore. A native of Hingham, Massachusetts, Boyle remembers watching Moore when he played at Harvard University. Now a part of a goal that will live forever among Rangers fans, Boyle feels honored to be linked to someone like Moore.
"We've become close. He's been nothing short of inspiring this year," Boyle said. "We lean on each other. He is a great player and the ultimate team guy. He's been huge for us and for me as well."
Fresh off a landmark victory against Montreal, Moore and the Rangers are four wins shy of the perfect ending.
"The beginning part of the season was definitely not easy for me. Taking that much time off, you know it's going to be hard," Moore said. "To be in this position with my teammates, to be able to play for the Cup, is a great feeling."