NEW YORK | Marc Staal’s value to the New York Rangers’ blue line is more than just the 17:17 he played in Game 3. His presence means everything to how John Tortorella manages his defense and workhorses Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh.
“He makes the D corps kind of calm,” center Derek Stepan said. “He’s got a presence about him.”
Staal returned Monday night after missing two months with a right eye injury suffered when he took a puck to the face. The 26-year-old provided a boost just by being in the lineup.
“He’s so well-respected in the room,” Tortorella said. “Even before he steps on the ice, that really helps your room, he’s just so well-liked.”
Staal not too long ago complained of blurry vision in his right eye. It’s still not perfect.
“I could tell on the ice, it’s different,” he said. “You play your whole life with 20-20 vision and you step out there and things definitely are changed. But for the most part, it went pretty well.”
Staal did not have a noticeable impact on the score sheet, but his being on the ice helped McDonagh (20:55) and Girardi (22:58) play their fewest minutes of the season.
It was an adjustment back to the speed of game action, with playoff intensity mixed in. Staal played in his 43rd career Stanley Cup playoff game Monday night, and that experience helps even when the first one back is difficult.
“The pace and timing is tough,” Staal said. “It’s got to keep improving and I’m sure it will. Certain plays on the ice were a little bit different but nothing I can’t get used to.”
Until he’s seeing perfectly, Staal will have to get used to playing with the vision issues. It was definitely a focus of his in Game 3.
“You’re just thinking about it more,” he said. “You’re not used to playing and that’s what is constantly in your head as to where, if you don’t have it, you’re just reacting, playing. Your instincts kind of take over. I want to get to that point, as soon as possible.”
That might not be Game 4 Wednesday night, but the Rangers will gladly take Staal being out there as long as he’s not put in bad spots. Staal bumped Steve Eminger out of the lineup, taking his place alongside Anton Stralman.
That’s a stronger and deeper defense corps than New York started the series with, even if Staal is not a hundred percent.
“I felt pretty good going in. I think the confidence is going to grow the more I’m out there and the more I’m in game situations,” Staal said. “I think I’ll feel a lot better next game.”