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Staal cleared for contact, closer to return

by Dave Lozo / NHL.com
NEW YORK -- Marc Staal jumped another hurdle Monday in his slow and steady recovery from a concussion that has kept him out all season. He was cleared for contact and took part in battle drills as the Rangers prepared to face the Islanders on Monday night.

Staal won't be in the lineup against the Islanders, but he's closer to playing than he has been since he was shut down during training camp in September. He's dealt with lingering concussion symptoms caused by a hit from brother Eric Staal of the Hurricanes in February.

The 24-year-old defenseman said he still needs to improve his conditioning in order to play 25 minutes per night like he has in the past. The Rangers' next three games after Monday are all on the road -- at Washington on Wednesday, at Florida on Friday, then in Philadelphia on Jan. 2 for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.

Staal didn't rule out playing in the Winter Classic before he was cleared for contact, but said he wouldn't rush back just to play in the game unless he was 100 percent healthy.

The loss of Staal hasn't hurt the Rangers' defense, which ranks third in the NHL at 2.09 goals allowed per game. The Rangers have also played without Michael Sauer (concussion) for three weeks and recently lost Steve Eminger for two months with a separated shoulder.
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