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Staal, Fast Expected Back for Tuesday Against Jackets

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

When the Rangers return to action following the All Star break Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blueshirts will have defenseman Marc Staal and forward Jesper Fast back in the lineup.

Staal has missed the last nine games with an upper-body injury, while Fast has been out for the last four with an upper-body injury of his own.

"I would say if everything goes to plan, both of those guys will be available for us tomorrow," head coach Alain Vigneault said after Monday afternoon's practice in which both players skated in normal jerseys. "They skated during the break, they had treatments. Both said today after practice they felt OK so we'll see how they respond tomorrow morning."

Staal said he had been skating for five or six days straight dating back to last week and skated during the break. He said it was a relief to get back on the ice with his teammates after skating so long on his own.

"I feel pretty good," Staal said. "I haven't talked to AV about [playing Tuesday] yet, but I felt good today. It felt good to be on the ice with the guys and get a good practice in. So I feel ready to go."

While Staal only missed nine games, he said the injury felt longer. Staal last played Jan. 3 against Buffalo, which was followed four days later by the Rangers' bye week, as well as this past weekend's All Star break.

"I'm excited," Staal said of returning after a month. "It's been longer than I thought it would be, with the breaks and everything else. It's going to be good to get back into the swing of things and back into the grind of the season. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

The 30-year-old said he won't go into tomorrow's game with any reservations about his status, and added that anytime a player does that it could lead to a bad situation.

"No," he said when asked if there was a chance he'd change his game to account for the injury. "I've gone through it before. I'm good to go 100 percent. If you play that way, you put yourself in more danger anyway. I feel good."

Vigneault said Staal brings experience to the room both on and off the ice, and he's excited to have the alternate captain back in the lineup, especially in regards to matchups against opponents with partner Nick Holden.

"There's no doubt in my mind that on our team, his experience, his leadership, the way he plays - he's a very good defender," Vigneault said. "He gives us the capabilities of having two pretty good duos as far as defending against the opposition's top line. If he's good to go tomorrow, which I expect, we'll be happy to have him back. He and Nick Holden were playing well together. I see good chemistry there and hopefully they both play well tomorrow."

Fast, meanwhile, said if he's called upon, he too is ready to go.

"I feel like I'm ready to play," Fast said. "If AV puts me in the lineup tomorrow I'll be ready to go.

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