SPOTLIGHT: DOMINIC MOORE

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

Former Hartford Wolf Pack and New York Rangers center Dominic Moore had a day to forget – and relish – on Thursday.

Moore was the reason that Martin St. Louis’ NHL-high consecutive games played streak of 499 ended Thursday night, after he took a puck near the eye during the morning skate before the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Rangers 3-2 in a shootout to end a five-game losing streak.

Ironically, Moore, whose backhander injured St. Louis, scored a shorthanded goal on a backhand shot with 1:57 left in regulation, and then got the only tally in the shootout on a snap shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist to the glove side on the Lightning’s second attempt. Mathieu Garon had 28 saves in regulation and overtime and then stopped John Mitchell, on recall from the Connecticut Whale, former Lightning center Brad Richards (hit post) and Marion Gaborik in the shootout, after robbing former Wolf Pack wing Ryan Callahan and Richards before Callahan hit the post in the five-minute overtime.

“I think the things I’m thinking about are how we stuck together as a team and responded the way we did,” Moore told reporters after the game. “As a man in our room, everyone’s thinking of Marty and we’re trying to get the win for Marty. He’s our leader every second of every day. That was our thoughts.”

Moore denied feeling any extra relief after improving to 5-for-10 in shootouts and getting a second shootout winner to go with the one in a 4-3 victory over Florida on Nov. 6. But Lightning standout wing Steven Stamkos said it was nice to see his teammate feeling far less anguished than he did about 10 hours earlier.

“He was feeling a little guilty about what happened this morning,” Stamkos said. “It was a tough one for him, but it shows you how mentally tough he is to come back in the game. We said we wanted to win this one for Marty. It’s kind of ironic that he scored on a backhander after this morning. It’s not funny, but it kind of is. I’m sure Marty would be happy that we won for him.”

St. Louis, a Greenwich resident, was bloodied when Moore circled the net and fired a backhander that caught St. Louis close to the eye. The Lightning’s second-leading scorer skated to the bench, was immediately helped to the locker room by a trainer and then taken to a nearby hospital for examination. He sustained facial and nose fractures and will be out indefinitely. He will return to Tampa and will be evaluated by team physicians when the swelling around his left eye subsides.

“It’s one of those plays,” a remorseful Moore said before the game.

“It’s a difficult loss for the team, but you know what? It’s an opportunity for guys to step up,” Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said.

It was another blow for a Lightning team that had lost five straight games and nine of 12 and was already without defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Pavel Kubina because of injuries. But the loss of St. Louis, the team’s heart and soul who won the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy in 2004, as the Lightning won their only Stanley Cup with current Rangers coach John Tortorella, is especially difficult.

“It just keeps on pouring,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “To be honest with you, with what happened to Marty, I know what’s happening (the team sagging at the sight of one of their leaders leaving the ice with a severe injury). It’s another one, you know? And it’s probably the biggest blow you can get on our team right there. I am the leader. I can’t show that we’re going into this battle with our heads down. It’s already going to be as difficult as it can be playing a top team. If we get down on ourselves and feel sorry for ourselves, we’re cooked. You have to be tough.”

The shorthanded Lightning responded after an intense morning skate and finally got a fortuitous bounce when Moore’s shorthanded backhander deflected off the stick of former Wolf Pack defenseman Ryan McDonagh and past Lundqvist late in regulation. Callahan and former Wolf Pack center Artem Anisimov (shorthanded) scored for the Rangers, and Ryan Malone got the first goal for Tampa Bay, which lost 4-2 to the Rangers at home last Saturday.

Until Moore’s redemption, the big story was Anisimov’s celebration after his shorthanded goal that irked the Lightning. After he scored his first shorthanded goal in the NHL off a nifty passing play with former Wolf Pack players Brandon Dubinsky and Michael Del Zotto for a 2-1 lead, Anisimov turned toward the Lightning net and fashioned his stick as a rifle or shotgun and began firing it. A brawl immediately broke out near the penalty boxes that resulted in 38 penalty minutes and left the Rangers down two men for 34 seconds. The Rangers were able to kill off both penalties but couldn’t turn that momentum into a victory.

Tortorella said Anisimov apologized to his teammates.

“These are lessons,” said Tortorella. “I don’t want to make a bigger deal out of it than it is. We need to move right by it. It was the wrong thing to do, we all know that. He knows that, but he’s a solid, solid guy who made a mistake. I know the leadership of the club will take over to work him through this. He’s a pretty innocent guy.”

Tortorella said crossing the celebration line won’t happen again.

“I don’t think he realized what would happen in that type of situation,” Tortorella said of Anisimov. “I don’t think that’s planned by him to go that far. I don’t blame Tampa Bay at all for the way they reacted. I would expect our team to do the same thing. It’s a lesson learned pretty quickly. He’s a good kid; he’s not an idiot.”

The first Lightning player to respond on the ice was captain Vinny Lecavalier.

Richards, one of the Rangers alternate captains, said he understood why Lecavalier, a former teammate, reacted the way he did.

“(Anisimov) wasn’t trying to embarrass anybody; he was celebrating a nice goal,” said Richards, who calls Lecavalier possibly his best friend. “I don’t think Artie was doing it against their team and, obviously, Vinny’s going to think that without knowing Artie so that happens. Artie won’t do that again. We’ll all move on from that.”

“Artie is just happy he scored a goal and he’s just celebrating,” added Callahan, the Rangers captain. “Anyone who knows Artie knows he doesn’t mean anything by it. The guys did a good job jumping in and stepping up for him when Tampa came after him.”

Anisimov was given a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for excessive celebration plus a double minor and a 10-minute misconduct for wrestling with Lightning forward Steve Downie. After practice Friday, the usually friendly Anisimov was contrite, apologized several times for his celebration, said growing up he saw others celebrate and envisioned during it when he reached the NHL but understood why the Lightning were upset.

“I didn’t mean something by it,” Anisimov told the media. “It’s just my celebration and, when I score goals, I want to do something unusual. I apologize to Tampa. I will never do this celebration again. It’s good lesson for me. I’ll do some different stuff I have in my pocket, but no more shooting.”

Having watched and known Anisimov for the two seasons he played with the Wolf Pack, I’m sure he was embarrassed by the trouble he caused and indeed learned from the incident. He is a terrific guy who has worked hard to improve his game and his English. He deserves a break as a first-time offender, and I’m certain it won’t happen again.

PRONGER OUT INDEFINITELY

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced Friday that All-Star defenseman/captain Chris Pronger is out indefinitely with “concussion-like symptoms.”

Pronger, the second overall pick by the Hartford Whalers in 1993, hasn’t played since Nov. 19. He was originally out with what the team called “a virus” but also had knee surgery Nov. 29 and wasn’t expected to return for a month.

“While Chris’ knee is improving, he has struggled with other issues that are concussion-like symptoms,” Holmgren said in a statement. “Chris will see Dr. Joe Maroon and Dr. Mickey Collins on Wednesday, Dec. 14th in Pittsburgh for further evaluation. Chris will be out indefinitely.”

Pronger also missed time this season with an eye injury after being hit in the face with a puck Oct. 24 against Toronto. He returned to play five games but was taken back out of the lineup.

“We said it was a virus, but I didn’t know what it was,” Pronger said Dec. 1 during a teleconference with reporters. “I’ve never felt like that before – headaches, nausea, all the rest of that. I had a concussion test, did the baseline test and passed that. I’ve just never felt like this where you get light-headed, you have headaches, you’re nauseous. It’s been a bit of a mystery what exactly is going on. Did some blood work, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on.”

Holmgren also updated the status of rookie center Brayden Schenn, who hasn’t played since Dec. 3 because of what was being called an upper-body injury. Schenn reported “not feeling himself” on Dec. 5, and doctors believe he has a mild concussion, so he’s be out indefinitely.

MESSIER TO PLAY IN WINTER CLASSIC ALUMNI GAME

Hall of Famer Mark Messier will play for the Rangers in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game against the Flyers on Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. on the same outdoor rink at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia that will host the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

Messier, the NHL’s second leading all-time scorer (1,887 points), led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994. He was scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery and was uncertain if he’d be ready to play, but he postponed the surgery and says he’s good to go after running the New York City Marathon for the first time last month.

Fans can vote at www.Blueshirtsunited.com for the starting lineup for the Rangers’ team in the alumni game. By casting a vote, fans will be entered to win a host of prizes, including Winter Classic jerseys and tickets to the alumni game and Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

Besides Messier, Rangers players scheduled to compete include fellow Hall of Famers Brian Leetch, a Cheshire native, Glenn Anderson and Mike Gartner, former Wolf Pack players Dale Purinton, Dan Blackburn and Darius Kasparaitis and former Hartford Whalers Nick Fotiu, Darren Turcotte and Nick Kypreos, along with Adam Graves, John Vanbiesbrouck, Brian Mullen, Ron Duguay and commentator Dave Maloney, whose son Dave Jr. now works for the Whale.

Coaches will be Mike Keenan, Colin Campbell and former Whalers general manager Emile Francis. The Rangers off-ice ambassadors will be Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin and Harry Howell, all of whom have had their numbers retired. For ticket information on the alumni game, call 212-465-6080.

The Rangers are offering special one-day and three-day NHL Winter Classic Road Trip packages presented by Amtrak. Packages include round-trip transportation to Philadelphia, game tickets, access to a pregame tailgate party with Rangers alumni, passes to watch practice and much more. For more information, visit www.newyorkrangers.com.

THOMAS NAMED CHL PLAYER OF THE WEEK

After a sluggish start that included a 10-game suspension, Christian Thomas has really picked up his game the last month. Now Thomas, the son of NHL veteran Steve Thomas and the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2010, has been named Canadian Hockey League Player of the Week after earning similar honors in the Ontario Hockey League.

Thomas, a right wing, had a natural hat trick and two assists in the Oshawa Generals’ 8-4 rout of Sarnia and added four assists in a 9-1 romp over Peterborough. Thomas, who has 11 goals and 13 assists in 20 games, will cap this week by trying to earn a spot on Team Canada in World Junior Championships on Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton.

Center J.T. Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick (15th overall) in June, and Yale left wing Kenny Agostino, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fifth-round pick in 2010, are among the invitees to the Team USA training camp Dec. 17-23 at the Edgeworth Centre in Camrose, Alta. The club also will play three exhibition games, with the final 22-player roster expected to be announced Dec. 22.

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