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Rangers starting to see Staal at his best again

by Dave Lozo

NEW YORK -- Every player who suffers a concussion is affected by and recovers from it differently. Some return right away, some need weeks to recover, some need months, some are never the same after they come back and others never come back at all.

Marc Staal was one of the NHL's steadiest defensemen the past two seasons, leading the Rangers in ice time and slowly developing the offensive side of his game. But a concussion he suffered toward the end of last season cost him the entirety of training camp in September and the first 36 games of the regular season and sent him back to square one. He spent a month trapped in his apartment doing nothing under doctor's orders, which helped his injury to heal but caused his game to deteriorate.

Marc Staal
Marc Staal
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 5
SOG: 16 | +/-: 3
It's taken more than four months, but the 25-year-old's game appears to be all the way back at just right the time. Staal scored his second goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday night, a power-play goal in overtime, to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory against the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

It also gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and a chance to end it Wednesday night at Verizon Center in Game 6 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

Staal had 2 goals and 5 points in 46 regular-season games; he has the exact same offensive numbers in 12 postseason contests.

Rangers center Brad Richards, who tied Game 5 with 6.6 seconds remaining in the third period to force overtime, battled through a concussion of his own last season while with the Dallas Stars. It cost him far less time than Staal, but to Richards, it's what makes Staal's slow and steady progression to this point that much more impressive.


Rangers rally for OT win, 3-2 series lead

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer
The Rangers were 6.6 seconds from being pushed to the brink until Brad Richards scored to send the game to overtime, then Marc Staal won it 1:35 into the extra period to give the Rangers a come-from-behind 3-2 victory against the Capitals in Game 5. READ MORE ›

"I've had that injury and come back after only three weeks and never really got back to what I wanted," Richards said. "Him jumping in in the middle of a season and going through that type of injury, I give him the benefit of the doubt for sure. He's a battler, and we can only hope he keeps getting better because it just adds to our team."

Teammate Brian Boyle went through a concussion of his own during this postseason, missing three games after taking a hit during Game 5 of the conference quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators. Boyle admitted breaking down the play of blueliners isn't his strong suit, but the improvement in Staal's game is hard to miss.

"I'm not the greatest at assessing defensemen unless I'm playing against them. Honestly, I tried to play that position and I couldn't get a grasp on it," Boyle said. "He's been playing great, in my opinion. With the way things went for him earlier in the year and in the summer, you felt for him. But this is a great feeling for him, I'm sure. We're really happy for him. He's been a leader for us. He's a great teammate and a great friend."

Rangers coach John Tortorella still believes Staal can improve and has repeatedly said he needs to go through training camp next season to return to full strength. But it's hard to believe Staal can play much better than he has lately.

One of the last things to return to Staal's game has been his ability to handle the puck, but he looked smooth and confident on his overtime winner. He corralled the puck after John Mitchell's faceoff victory, glided across the blue line toward the middle of the ice, kept his head up, and fired a shot that sneaked through two Capitals and pierced the back of the net.

Before Richards tied it, Staal used a quick stick to break up a 3-on-1 rush that likely would've put the game away.

Every facet of Staal's game has been clicking, and Tortorella has rewarded him with an average of 25:20 ice time during the playoffs. During the Rangers' 2-1 triple-overtime victory in Game 3, Staal played 49:34, second-most in the contest behind teammate Ryan McDonagh's 53:17. During the regular season, Staal was playing 19:53 per game. During the playoffs, he has yet to play less than 20:53.

"I feel good," Staal said. "You have to be come playoff time. I don't think I focus as much on the way I play. I focus on doing what I can to try to win a game. You end up making plays and things start happening for me."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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