The Rangers and their fans received an emotional lift Monday night when Marc Staal was activated from injured reserve before Game 3 of their playoff series with the Capitals at the Garden.
Staal received a standing ovation when he was introduced as a starting defenseman alongside Anton Stralman. Staal played a surprising 17:17 and was minus-1 in the Rangers' 4-3 victory.
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Staal had been out since March 5, when he was struck in the face by a shot by the Flyers' Kimmo Timonen and suffered blurred vision in his right eye. And that came after a long absence because of a concussion suffered last season.
"I didn't know what to anticipate, to be honest with you,'' Staal said. "I just wanted to get out there, get my feet wet, and the guys did a good job around me, supporting me on the ice.
"The crowd was great. I got a big cheer. It was a pretty good feeling to get back out on the ice -- chills the whole warmup and stepping on the ice for the game. It was pretty special.''
The stat sheet didn't show much of an impact from Staal during his 21 shifts. He attempted two shots; one was blocked and the other was way wide of the Capitals' net. But his presence on the ice instead of the press box meant something to his teammates.
"It helps the room,'' coach John Tortorella said. "He's so well-respected in the room. This is two major injuries he's come back from. Even before he stepped on the ice, I think that really helps your room.''
Tortorella said there was no easing back of Staal -- "once we knew he could play, he was going in top-four,'' he said -- and the Capitals didn't ease up, either.
Staal took a jarring hit from Troy Brouwer along the boards six minutes into the game. He got back up and rejoined the action, playing 2:23 in the first period and seeing time on the penalty kill.
"Good way to start it off,'' Staal said. "I think it was going to happen sooner or later. Good to get one under your belt early, I guess.''
Staal revealed that he missed the first two games of the series because of a setback with his vision.
"I had some issues last week with the eye that kind of were affecting [me] on the ice,'' he said. "That cleared up. After that, I was confident to get out there. If I was ready last week, I would have played.
"Without getting into too much detail, the eye was kind of acting up last week where the vision just wasn't cooperating the way I wanted it to on the ice. That cleared up the last few days.''