Staal is returning to action at a critical time for the Rangers, who entered Game 3 against the Washington Capitals down 2-0 in the best-of-seven, first-round series. New York has scored only one goal in the two games, including a 1-0 loss at Washington on Saturday.
The Madison Square Garden crowd cheered wildly when Staal, who is wearing a visor, was shown on the centre-ice video board as part of the starting lineup before the national anthem.
Steve Eminger was scratched from the lineup to make room for Staal.
Rangers forward Ryane Clowe (suspected concussion) remained out for New York.