"I think it's an honest and humble decision by him knowing he didn't want to put the team in any jeopardy," McDonagh said. "It takes a lot of guts to do that."
Staal's absence from the Rangers' lineup was surprising only because he showed no indications that he wouldn't play for a second straight game after missing 29 in a row with a right eye injury.
He played Monday for the first time since being struck in his eye by a deflected shot on March 5. Staal said he felt good and got better as the game went along. He practiced Tuesday and was on the ice Wednesday for the morning skate.
However, McDonagh said he found out Staal wasn't going to play when he arrived at Madison Square Garden around 4 p.m. ET. The Rangers did not give an update as to why Staal didn't play, but the only reason he wouldn't is because his eye wasn't feeling right and his vision wasn't satisfactory enough for him to feel comfortable.
"We're obviously a little surprised, I guess, [because] he goes through a pregame skate," McDonagh said. "He's gotta do what he feels is best. It's obviously a tough pill to swallow. He knows he wants to help us and he knows it's going to be an up and down process. There will be good days and bad days. I think it's a real humble move by him not to put the team in jeopardy and that's what he's worried about most, the team."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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