Moore's late-game plays save day for Pats

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Moore's late-game plays save day for Pats

FOXBORO -- Sterling Moore was in attendance for last year's Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas. But he was just a fan then.

In two weeks, the rookie will be playing in the big game, in large part because of his on-field play in Sunday's AFC Championship win over the Baltimore Ravens.

The story at Gillette Stadium was Billy Cundiff's missed 32-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left with 11 seconds remaining. But even if he had made the clutch kick, the game wouldn't have been over. It would have tied the game at 23-23, sending it to overtime.

It was Moore's heroic defensive efforts, prior to the missed kick, that truly saved the day.

Before the kick, Baltimore had the ball at New England's 14-yard line with one timeout remaining, and a chance to put it in the end zone for the win in regulation.

On 2nd-and-1, Flacco threw a perfect pass to Lee Evans in the back-right corner of the end zone. It hit Lee in the numbers, and looked as if he made the catch, which would have ended the game. But Moore quickly reacted by batting the ball out of Evans' hands, making for an incomplete pass, and bringing up a 3rd-and-1 from the 14.

"I saw him catch it," said Moore after the game. "Honestly, I saw him catch it, and I tried to do whatever I could to get the ball out. It was the first thing I did, so, I'm glad it worked.

"It wasn't even in my mind to slap the ball out. That was just a reaction."

That reactionary type of play came up again on the very next snap, as Flacco tried to find Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta with a throw to the right side, but that was also batted away by Moore, forcing the Ravens to attempt a game-tying 32-yard field goal.

We all know how that worked out.

If it wasn't for Moore's heroics in Baltimore's final set of downs, then it would be the Ravens celebrating a trip to the Super Bowl, not the Patriots.

"Sterling has done a good job or us here the last few weeks going back to the Buffalo game and then last week against Denver," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "He made some plays. Not perfect out there, but he competes hard and hes a tough kid. Hes got good ball skills. He gets around the ball."

Moore's game-saving plays showed that he was also able to put game-changing breakdowns behind him.

In the final minutes of the third quarter, Moore was beat by Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith after Smith caught a quick dump-off and spun up the right sideline. Moore couldn't make the tackle on Smith before he dove into the end zone, giving the Ravens their first lead of the game at 17-16.

"The biggest thing was just trying not to think about it," said Moore. "They just told me to put it behind you, and step up and make a play. And that's what I did."

And because of those big plays he eventually made up for his third-quarter mishap.

Moore entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent this season and was cut by the Oakland Raiders in late September. Now, he's one of the main reasons the Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl.

"It shows just the mental toughness that he has, personally," said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. "He comes out every day and goes to work, and tries to show the coaches what he's capable of doing. He showed it today."

"Just the season that I've had, just to do it at this stage, is huge," said Moore. "Proving to everybody else that, you know, I can make these plays. I'm glad the Patriots gave me the opportunity. I deserve to be out there.

"I'm very fortunate, very blessed to be here," said Moore. "When I was released from the Raiders, who knew that I would be picked up. Who knew what team, when. I'm just glad to be here and have the opportunity that coach Belichick gave me."

On Sunday, Moore returned the favor.

Spooner working on his draws to help become a more complete center

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Spooner working on his draws to help become a more complete center

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Ryan Spooner quickly ticked off face-offs as one big area that needed improvement headed into his second full NHL season with the Bruins and the speedy young center has most definitely put in the work thus far in camp.

Still, it didn’t translate in Spooner’s first preseason game in Wednesday night’s lopsided loss to the Red Wings as he finished 4-for-16 on the draw, and to add insult to injury: he also served a two-minute minor penalty for a face-off violation that led to a power-play goal. 

The skilled center made up for it at the other end by setting up a score for fellow speed-demon center Austin Czarnik as Boston’s only goal, but he was again back out on the Warrior Ice Arena sheet working on his draws again Thursday.

“I wasn’t great on my face-offs [against Detroit] trying to cheat a little bit too much. I think I just need to maybe just bear down a little bit more,” said Spooner, who finished at a very lackluster 42.8 percent success rate on face-offs last season. “[I need to] not try to win them clean, maybe just tie them up a little bit more. I was just trying to cheat on those [face-offs], and it didn’t work.”

Clearly, the draws were a contributing part of the problem in the rough loss to the Red Wings and it’s something Spooner will need to iron out before he’s fully trusted by the coaching in the nitty-gritty situations late in games. That was obvious at times last season. It’s something Spooner wants to change this season when there’s so much competition at the center spot, with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, Dominic Moore, Noel Acciari, Riley Nash and Czarnik all considered natural centers.

“When you start with the puck then the game is so much easier,” said B’s assistant coach Bruce Cassidy. “For Spooner [face offs] are important. I don’t want to speak for Claude [Julien], but he does have the luxury now of playing Spooner with guys that can take draws in his place if he wants to go down that road.

“At some point he’s going to have to improve [on the draw]. I think he wants to [improve on the draw] and he’s working at it, but the numbers aren’t where they need to be for him obviously. That’s the challenge Claude has going forward, but I think he can still get out on the ice and help you, even if he’s deficient in the face-off circle, and if he has some wingers that can help him.”

Spooner has employed veteran center Moore to give him some pointers while the two have worked out together in training camp and, in theory, it should be a big help for the young third-line center. Moore is one of those trusted veterans that is used in key face off situations with positive results, and is a left-shot player who can show the 24-year-old the exact techniques to help him.

Spooner said that getting face-off tips from Bergeron or Krejci had a limit to its helpfulness because those are right-handed centers doing the absolute reverse technique that a left-shot center would employ. Moore downplayed his role as a bit of a face off mentor, but the statistics, and his reputation on the draw would indicate he’s got plenty of knowledge to offer a second-year player.

“There are a lot of little things in the game, face-offs being one of them, that you learn through experience, and you want to try to pass it along to help make the team better,” said Moore. “[Spooner] is eager to try and improve a little bit every day. Part of face-offs is trying to get an edge any way that you can because they’re such a hotly contested thing.

“It’s definitely not easy, but if you have the right mentality then you try and build it up. You just have to approach it on a daily basis, commit to it and try to improve as best you can.”

Like so many things in life it would seem face-off ability is about putting in the work as much as it’s about natural-born skill and Spooner is putting in the hours to be a more complete center and trusted part of the team.

 

Bruins set roster for tonight’s preseason game in Detroit

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Bruins set roster for tonight’s preseason game in Detroit

The Bruins' lineup for Friday night’s preseason game in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings will include players from both practice groups filling into a more veteran-laden B’s lineup in Motown.

The Matt Grzelcyk-Adam McQuaid pairing that wasn’t great on Wednesday night will get right back into it, and the John-Michael Liles-Brandon Carlo pairing that was so good on Monday night will get another look as well. Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Anton Khudobin, Dominic Moore, Joe Morrow, Riley Nash and Ryan Spooner will be the established NHL veterans along with McQuaid and Liles suiting up for Boston’s first road exhibition of the preseason.

Here’s the entire lineup, with Boston now serving as one of the last NHL teams that is yet to make any cuts from their camp roster: Matt Beleskey, Anton Blidh, Brandon Carlo, Colby Cave, Peter Cehlarik, Brian Ferlin, Alex Grant, Seth Griffith, Matt Grzelcyk, Jimmy Hayes, Danton Heinen, Anton Khudobin, Jeremy Lauzon, John-Michael Liles, Zane McIntyre, Adam McQuaid, Dominic Moore, Joe Morrow, Riley Nash, Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Spooner.

The Bruins will be traveling to Philadelphia for another preseason game on Saturday and that may perhaps be the first time B’s fans get to see returning World Cup veteran players David Backes, David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask after they began practicing with the camp group on Thursday morning at Warrior Ice Arena.