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Rangers' Eric Staal cherishing return to playoffs

Veteran forward not taking opportunity for granted after missing past six postseasons

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The agony grew worse with each passing year for New York Rangers forward Eric Staal when he'd sit on his on his couch or roam around his house with the Stanley Cup Playoffs coming through his television.

These sights and sounds are the greatest for hockey fans across the continent and maybe even the world, but they have a way of tormenting any NHL player who has been eliminated before the fun really begins, let alone one who knows what the euphoria feels like in person. 

Staal did this for six consecutive springs. Torture.

"It was honestly more and more frustrating and tough every season because of that, because you know what it is," Staal said Friday, the day before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I've experienced it. I've been there. I've won. I know the feelings, and when you're constantly missing, it's tough. It's tough watching other guys and other teams, guys that you know well and guys you compete against all season long getting to enjoy it and you're watching.

"It's tough, so I'm glad I got this opportunity to join this group and now I want to make sure I make the most of it."

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm2: Brassard buries go-ahead wrist shot

Staal and the Rangers gave themselves a better opportunity to make the most of it with a 4-2 win against the Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Saturday. The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 as it shifts to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports, MSG, ROOT).

"Coming into Game 2 you want to make sure you're 1-1 going home, and now we get to enjoy that atmosphere at MSG," Staal said. "The Garden, nothing better. It' be fun. It's good energy and I'm looking forward to it."

Until this year, Staal hadn't been able to look forward to any playoff game since 2009, the last time he made the postseason with the Carolina Hurricanes. It was three years after he won the Stanley Cup.

Carolina was close in some of the proceeding years, including being eliminated on the last day of the 2010-11 season. Coming close only made the offseason worse because it felt like the season was a waste.

"It goes to show how tough it is to be in the playoffs," Staal said. "Now when you have this opportunity, you have to take advantage of it because you can't take it for granted."

Staal has the opportunity because he waived his no-trade clause to the come to the Rangers in a trade from Carolina on Feb. 28.

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm2: Kreider pads Rangers' lead early in 3rd

He saw an opportunity in New York, a team he knew well from years of watching them in the playoffs because he wanted to pay attention to what his brother, defenseman Marc Staal, was doing.

No team in the Eastern Conference has played more playoff games since 2012 than the Rangers' 79.

"I've been watching this team a lot," Staal said. "Marc is here, he's been on long runs with this team so I've watched a lot of them over a number of years. But I watched a lot every night; not sit there the whole night and watch, but it's usually on and I was paying attention, knowing what the scores are, highlights, those things. I've been in hockey my whole life so I've always paid attention."

Now they're paying attention to him. He's been worth watching, even if the puck isn't going in the net.

Staal is part of the Rangers' third line, which has been effective in the first two games. He has four shots on goal in 31:15 of ice time. He has won 16 of 25 faceoffs, including 9 of 10 in Game 1.

"I think he's right where we need him to be," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's very vocal being a former captain. He's brought the right leadership to help out our group. … I think he's fit in nicely. I knew it was going to take some time. But that big body can wear down the opposition in a seven-game series and that's what is going to continue to happen here."

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm2: Zuccarello nets Miller's feed

Staal is banking on that too. He was banking on this opportunity when he arrived in New York. Even though the Rangers lost 5-2 in Game 1, Staal's wish came true and, at least at the start of the game, it felt exactly how he expected it to feel.

"It was awesome," he said. "Goosebumps right away, first spin around before the game started. The crowd, the energy, the atmosphere -- I miss that. It was a lot of fun. Those are moments you want to have every single year and for me it's been a while."

He thinks it'll be even better at the Garden on Tuesday. He's probably going to be right.

"It's everything," Staal said. "Every seat is filled and everybody is excited. Every moment matters. Not that it doesn't in the regular season, but it's a different feeling, a different vibe and a different energy for everybody in the building and everybody who is watching. Those are moments you want to be a part of, you want to play, you want to be out there. Things I missed and I'm excited to be back, and hopefully making sure it's a long while doing it.

"Time goes fast and opportunities, you need to take advantage of them. This is a chance."

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