LOS ANGELES - John Moore probably took the Rangers' Game 1 loss harder than anyone, and he did not even play. That is what made it so difficult and why he is grateful that the Stanley Cup Final will begin for him Saturday night.
The gratitude actually began after his team eliminated the Canadiens in the conference finals, after he incurred a two-game suspension from the NHL for an illegal hit on Dale Weise in Game 5. Moore apologized to his teammates in the locker room after that incident, figuring he might be banned, as Brandon Prust had been for a hit on Derick Brassard.
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"I think the immediate reaction after Game 6 was relief. These guys battled back and gave me a chance to come back and play some more hockey this year. I was proud of the group for that," Moore said after practicing at Staples Center on Friday as one of the regular third pair.
He was careful not to assume he will play Saturday night, and Alain Vigneault, like every other NHL coach in the playoffs, declined to say anything about his lineup. But Vigneault added, "You watched practice today."
Anyone who observed the workout saw Moore liberated and energized with the suspension expired. He had endured "bag skates" -- hockey slang for arduous practices -- under assistant coach Daniel Lacroix.
"I'm more than ready," the defenseman said. "It's tough to watch, no matter what time of year. But the Stanley Cup Final, it doesn't get any bigger than that. To not be out there, to be watching in the stands is a tough pill to swallow. But you make your bed, you've got to sleep in it.
"It's unfortunate it happened. I don't think it's part of my game to be a reckless player. I'm not going to talk too much about that, but I'm certainly not going to see it affecting my game much."
Teammates are more than ready to welcome back a player who worried that he had let them down. "John, he's a very good person," said Brad Richards, the alternate captain and de facto elder statesman. "Not that other guys aren't, but he's the type of guy that [being suspended would affect]. We talked about it briefly. That stuff happens. It's a play in hockey that he probably would have done something different [on], in hindsight. He's able to play now. We'll move on."
Moore has moved on to feeling fortunate. "There's 28 other teams that would love to be bag skating and getting ready," he said. "It's the Stanley Cup, you're dreaming about this your whole life. If you can't have fun with this, you're in the wrong spot."