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Rangers Marc Staal defies odds, will play in Classic

by Dave Lozo
PHILADELPHIA -- Rangers defenseman Marc Staal will return to the New York Rangers lineup for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.

Staal has missed the entire season due to lingering symptoms from a concussion he suffered in February of last season. Staal continued to play following the hit from Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, Marc's brother; but was shut down during training camp.

"Last night at dinner, he talked to my trainer (Jim Ramsay)," Rangers coach John Tortorella said Monday. "He talked to (Dr. Robert Cantu), and everything was good with him and everything was good with Rammer. So I sat down and talked with him and asked him, 'Do you want to play?' I heard so many different things and Marc was talking quite a bit. I said, 'Staalsy, I don't care what anyone else's opinion is. Do you want to play?'


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"He said he was, so he's playing."

Marc Staal was cleared for contact a week ago and has been practicing without limits. He never ruled out playing in the Winter Classic but considered it a long shot all along only because of the time he needed to get into game shape.

Staal will follow in the footsteps of brother Jordan Staal, who missed the first 39 games of last season with a broken hand before returning to the Penguins lineup in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals.

"I just found out two minutes ago. That's another example of we don't know anything before you guys," Rangers forward Michael Rupp told Dan Rosen of on Monday afternoon. "I came in and they said he was playing. I was like, 'there's no way.' I was just teasing him the other night, is there going to be a second Staal to make his debut in the Classic. He said, 'no, no, definitely not.' You know what, we're excited. It's good to see a guy healthy and ready to come back."

Tortorella said the fact he's making his return in an outdoor game that comes with more attention than any other regular-season game didn't factor into his decision.

"The game itself, I think you can overthink that, as far as the different nature of it," Tortorella said. "If Marc Staal tells me…I needed a yes or a no. I got a yes from a trainer, I got a yes from a doctor, and more importantly, I got a yes from the player. He's going to play. I don't care if we're playing on a creek somewhere. He's going to play."

Staal will play on the Rangers' third pairing, although Tortorella didn't say if it would be Jeff Woywitka or Stu Bickel coming out of the lineup. Staal's minutes will be limited Monday and in the near future.

"That's going to take time, as far as where he's going to sit in our lineup," Tortorella said. "We'll make judgments as we go through. We're not putting him in a top-four position and we'll make judgments about his game as it goes along here."

Tortorella said Sunday that Staal would not play in the 2012 Winter Classic, but it appears Staal made it clear Sunday night that he was ready to go. Staal practiced in full at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday, taking part in a few drills with his usual defense partner, Dan Girardi, after Ryan McDonagh left practice with flu-like symptoms.

Staal's return should provide a boost to the Rangers' depleted defense corps. Michael Sauer has missed a month with a concussion while Steve Eminger will be out two months with a separated shoulder.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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