New York Rangers: Marc Staal

Rangers heartbroken after elimination

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14
LOS ANGELES -- This is what heartbreak looks like: a stunned Derek Stepan with his stare fixed on the ground, arms folded on his knees, shoulders sagging in the moments after defeat. Henrik Lundqvist clasping his tape-laced fingers behind his neck, bowing his head in a locker room that was staggeringly silent. Dan Girardi, unmoving in his stall, sitting stoically in his sweat-soaked jersey.

"I have nowhere to go. No hurry now," Girardi said. "Just kept it on. No reason. I just -- just hanging onto it, I guess. Hanging onto the last moments here."

There were so many poignant moments to remember for the New York Rangers throughout what was a remarkable postseason run. So much to be proud of, yet all those fond memories were difficult to summon in the wake of the team’s season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals on Friday night.

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe Rangers' playoff run ended with a Game 5, double-overtime loss to the Kings.
Those moments will be recalled in a few days' time. They’ll probably be rehashed many times throughout what will feel like a long, endless summer. Down the road, years from now, those memories will be shared over beers, laughs, maybe even some tears, too. There will be a sense of pride.

But not now.

"There will be. Not tonight, but there will be," said veteran Brad Richards, the Rangers’ de facto captain. "Tonight’s not a night to reminisce, but there will be a time this summer when you look back at what an amazing run it was. Has to be amazing to get this far. Things have to come together. No one will ever know, except for us, how fun it was and how we came together. You lose three overtime games in the final. It’s hard to explain."

It was already tough for the Rangers to articulate, to put into words just how exactly they were feeling physically, mentally and emotionally after a beautifully chaotic and drama-filled double-overtime game that ended with Alec Martinez’s game winner.

Some tried to explain what it was like.

"Empty," said defenseman Anton Stralman, who had a particularly strong postseason. "Emptiness, I think."

Marc Staal, as steady as any player in that room, both on or off the ice, made no effort to conceal his anguish.

"It’s the worst feeling you can have as a hockey player," said Staal, which is not hollow hyperbole coming from a player who has suffered through a pair of frightening, career-threatening injuries in recent years.

Maybe the worst part for all of those involved is that the group will never again get a chance with the team constituted as it currently stands. Richards has likely played his last game as a Ranger, with a potential buyout looming. Rick Nash, with another disappointing postseason performance, might not be long for Broadway. The team has six impending unrestricted free agents and several key restricted free agents to get under contract as well.

It will not be the same group of players come training camp this fall.

"Who knows if we’re going to have another crack at this? We might not get another crack at this opportunity," Girardi said, almost unbelieving. "That’s why it hurts, I think, that much more."

It will also sting, for some time, for the Rangers to look back on a series that went five games but was riddled with squandered leads, missed opportunities and some odd outcomes.

The Rangers played better in the games they lost than in their sole victory in Game 4. The Kings erased leads, rallied back, showed resilience. The Rangers never even really felt like they settled into their game. They dropped the first three games and seemed shell-shocked by their position.

"It felt like we closed our eyes and opened them and we were down three-nothing [in the series]," Staal said.

But the Rangers salvaged pride in Game 4, avoiding a sweep on home ice at Madison Square Garden, and they should have left the handshake line with their heads held high as well.

They left every ounce of effort on that Staples Center ice Friday night in what was maybe the most riveting stretch of playoff hockey this spring, maybe ever. There was not a single moment to mentally adjust, no time to take a deep breath. Just end-to-end, do-or-die hockey in its purest form. It was wildly entertaining, captivating and absolutely mesmerizing.

Both teams had their chances, great chances, to end the game in each overtime period. There was Ryan McDonagh’s shot off the post and Tyler Toffoli’s crossbar shot in the first period. There was Nash’s shot directed at an open net, foiled only by a sliver of shaft of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s stick in the next. Lundqvist was superb the whole way through, denying every Grade-A chance that passed his crease for his second outing of 40 saves or more, but it was just one juicy rebound surrendered that ended up in the back of their net.

Martinez buried the chance, a play that seemed to unfold in slow motion, if only because it signaled the end to a game that many hoped would just keep going. It was that good.

Coach Alain Vigneault, talking to just a smattering of reporters with the muffled sounds of victory music lingering in the background, lauded his club for its heart.

"You go into this hoping you don’t regret anything," Vigneault said. "We put it out there. We gave our best shot, our best effort. Three games here all went to OT. What can I say?"

There was not much to say, after all. But there will be time to think and reflect.

Defenseman John Moore, finally showered and dressed in his suit, paused on his way out of the dressing room. There was a television monitor in the barren hallway, and he took a brief glance at the Kings celebrating their Stanley Cup win with friends and family on the ice.

He looked away and kept walking.

It’s too painful in the immediate aftermath, but they will remember this run -- the team’s first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years.

It was special, even in defeat.

"It’s definitely worth it. Worth every second, these two months," Richards said. "Right now, you’re just sort of speechless."

Meet the Blueshirts: Marc Staal

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3
Marc StaalChristopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
Position: D
Number: 18
Age: 27
Born: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Height: 6-4
Weight: 207
How Acquired: Selected by the Rangers in the first round (No. 12 overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

In case you didn’t know ...

• Staal isn’t the dynamic force he used to be. Injuries are to blame. A concussion given to him by older brother Eric cost him 36 games in 2011-12. Then, in 2012-13, he suffered a small retinal tear in his right eye and an orbital fracture -- the result of a deflected slapshot taken by Kimmo Timonen. Still, he has been solid on the second-pairing.

• In the two previous seasons before the injuries happened, Staal was a combined plus-19 plus/minus rating and averaged 23:08 of ice-time in 2009-10 and 25:44 in 2010-11 (fourth, NHL).

• If Staal wins the Stanley Cup, he and his brothers -- Eric (2005-06, Carolina) and Jordan (2008-09, Pittsburgh) -- will become the first trio of brothers to do so as players.

Click here for the rest of our series.

Stepan shows he's toughness personified

May, 30, 2014
May 30
NEW YORK -- Derek Stepan still can’t even eat solid food. He won’t be indulging in anything of the sort for at least another six weeks. He’s still not sure if he’ll be able to eat the meal at his own wedding this summer. He’s learned to get acquainted with the blender, and he’s willing to get creative.

Broken jaw and all, he’s headed to the Stanley Cup finals.

[+] EnlargeDerek Stepan
AP ImagesDerek Stepan can't even eat solid food yet, but he still played a critical role in sending the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals.
The 23-year-old center has become another one of hockey’s prime examples of toughness personified, as he returned to the New York Rangers lineup in Game 5, just four days after undergoing surgery to have a plate inserted into his jaw, and played a critical role in helping the club advance to its first Stanley Cup final appearance since 1994.

All the pain and discomfort since he sustained the suspension-earning hit from Brandon Prust all seemed worth it to Stepan, who still couldn’t help but smile when recounting the final moments of the team’s 1-0 win in Game 6 against the Montreal Canadiens.

"That's a cool feeling,” he said. “I've been here four years and I've never had a feeling quite like that. That's something I won't forget for sure."

Stepan, who notched two goals in his first game back from injury in game 5 on Tuesday, lauded the team’s medical staff for helping him get back into the series. He said that he had to adjust to the hulking, bright green facial protector attached to his helmet, but got used to it after a few days.

As of now, he’s feeling all right. About as good as anyone else in the playoffs, it seems.

“Yeah, not too bad,” he said.

The euphoria of victory was enough to leave Stepan in a forgiving mood at least. After the game, he seemed to harbor no ill will towards his former teammate Prust, who was slapped with a two-game ban for the hit that broke Stepan’s jaw.

“I’m not going to hold it against him,” Stepan said, “He feels bad about it, he knows it was late. We’ll just move on.”

• • •

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said he didn’t know what to do when the Prince of Wales trophy was awarded at center-ice after the Rangers’ Eastern Conference final victory. He deferred to the team’s elder statesman, and de facto captain, Brad Richards.

Richards told him not to touch it.

Back in 2004, when the 33-year-old veteran won a Stanley Cup Championship with Tampa Bay along with teammate Martin St. Louis, he was instructed not to touch it, as per hockey superstition.

Since it worked out so well for them 10 years ago, he continued to heed the ritual.

"Well, I just -- Marty and I have been there, [Daniel] Carcillo, unfortunately, just wasn't dressed, so we didn't put his opinion in, but no one else was dressed that's been there. We won it without touching it, and it was instructed that way when we won,” Richards explained. “If half the team was there, maybe we would have had more debate on the ice, but it wasn't much debate. We're not doing it, and that's where we went with it."

Rangers rally around Martin St. Louis

May, 10, 2014
May 10
PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers may not win this series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it won’t be for a lack of heart. At no other point in the season was the team’s loyalty, commitment and compassion on better display than Friday’s emotional 5-1 win in which they rallied behind teammate Martin St. Louis, who played Game 5 only one day after the death of his mother.

After the team charter landed in Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon, the 38-year-old veteran found out his mother, France St. Louis, had unexpectedly died at 63 of a heart attack. The Rangers provided St. Louis with the team plane to fetch his family in New York, then procured a private plane to take them all to Montreal, where he joined his father and was able to see his mother one last time before she was taken away. He was told by the team to put family first, take whatever time he needed. But when he spoke with his father Friday morning, the decision was clear.

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis, Rob Scuderi, Robert Bortuzzo
Gregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Rangers avoided elimination in Game 5 in Pittsburgh.
“I know, deep down, my mother would -- my mom would want me to play this game. She’d be proud of me coming here and help as much as I can. And the boys have been so supportive, the support I got from the New York Rangers, my teammates, and my friends and family, friends around the league, old friends, has been unbelievable,” said St. Louis in a touching, heartfelt postgame interview after the Rangers avoided elimination.

“She was a great lady, the best human being I’ve ever known in my life. I owed it to her to do it.”

Most of St. Louis’ teammates were unaware of his intentions on game day. Words started to spread at the pregame meal at the team hotel. Some were in utter disbelief that he was coming back. Some, especially those who have known St. Louis for some time, were not surprised at all. But all of his teammates recognized the sacrifice he was making. Here was a teammate in excruciating emotional pain, and he was putting that on hold to play a hockey game because it mattered.

"I think it shows how much he cares about the guys in this room," said defenseman Marc Staal. "He didn’t want to leave us when we needed him most. Shows a lot about a guy. I don’t know if I could do it."

Hockey has always been a sanctuary for St. Louis and it was again Friday night, when the team put forth an inspired, purposeful performance that kept their season afloat. Derick Brassard scored two goals, as did the maligned power play, and the Rangers forced a Game 6 at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s always been like that for me. Once you get on the ice, I’m not going to say I forgot my whole situation -- she was with me the whole way -- but this is probably the most comfortable place that you can be as a hockey player,” St. Louis said.

Those around him did their best to keep his spirits high. There was a brief talk, in which he was thanked for his return, before team meetings just hours before puck drop. During the third period, Brassard gave him a jubilant hug on the bench, tussling his helmet in appreciation. Even Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby made a special stop near the Rangers’ dressing room to pay his condolences to the well-respected veteran before the game began.

After the game, alternate captain Richards talked about the “culture” of hockey players, saying he wasn’t surprised St. Louis played. No one on the team could have grasped the depth of St. Louis’ loss better than Richards, either. The longtime friends, who played together in Tampa, have known each other for years. Their families have grown close. Just 10 days earlier, Richards said, St. Louis’ mom was patting his fiancee’s belly, overjoyed for the impending arrival of his first child.

"It puts a lot of things in perspective about the other night’s hockey game," Richards said.

According to Brassard, the tragedy hit home for pretty much everyone, seeing their teammate go through such a shock.

“If we could’ve all gone to support him, we would have done it,” Brassard told

He thought of his own mother, and how despondent he would have been to receive such news.

“When things like that happen, it makes you realize,” Brassard began, getting emotional. “I wanted to call my mom and tell her I love her.”

The Rangers did the best they could, for St. Louis and for one another. They were able to harness that emotion and channel it. That sort of raw energy allowed them to power past the Pens, a totally different look from the team that was on the ice in Games 3 and 4 looking both ragged and defeated.

Now they will have another chance to prolong their season on Sunday. Fittingly, Game 6 falls on Mother’s Day.

“We get another chance to continue, on Mother’s Day,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “It will be real special for our group.”
PITTSBURGH -- New York Rangers veteran center Brad Richards recalls a game more than three years ago, back when he was playing for the Dallas Stars. It was a 3-2 shootout loss for the Stars at American Airlines Center, and it was a game that Richards remembers well because of the way defenseman Marc Staal performed.

He recalled how hard of a time he had playing against Staal, whose long reach and sound stick work disrupted Dallas’ play during the 33:06 of ice time Staal logged. Staal finished the game with an assist and plus-1. That stellar match has stuck with Richards even since the two have become teammates on Broadway.

[+] EnlargeMarc Staal
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMarc Staal has been productive for the Rangers this postseason.
After a rocky two years that were largely derailed following a pair of devastating injuries, Staal is looking more and more like that player Richards remembers.

“We've only been able to see a little bit of it because all of the major injuries he’s had, not just little things,” Richards said. “That takes a lot of time. I think as time goes, a full year this year pretty much, hopefully we’ll see him closer and closer to how he was.”

Staal missed extended time due to lingering effects of a concussion in 2012, and he endured another lengthy absence after a harrowing eye injury in 2013, but Staal played in 72 regular-season games and all eight playoff matches for the Rangers this year. That sort of continuity has enabled the re-emergence of Staal as one of the steadiest defensemen in this league.

He was awarded the team’s sartorial MVP trophy, the Broadway Hat, following his effort in the Rangers' 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1 of their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He ranks third on the team in ice time with an average of 20:24 in ice time per game and has two points and is plus-7 through eight games this playoffs.

His teammates have been heartened to see this progress, not just as benefactors of his play on the ice, but because of how well-liked and respected Staal is off the ice, as well.

“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Marc Staal,” said young center Derek Stepan, who was invited to live with Staal while he was in between apartments during the NHL lockout. “Since I’ve gotten here, he’s been someone I can lean on.”

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault knew Staal only by reputation while he was coaching in Vancouver. This season he has gotten to witness the 27-year-old’s growth first-hand.

“I think he’s a guy this year that has improved throughout the year,” Vigneault said during the Rangers’ media availability in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon. “We always knew he was a good defender and he’s still one of the best defenders in the league in my opinion but he’s also, this year, he’s improved his puck decisions. He improved moving the puck, helping us break out a little quicker out of our own end.”

That’s been vital for the Rangers, especially this season, as they’ve embraced a speed game that requires the defensemen to activate from the back end. Those sort of quick plays had given Staal difficulty in the past. His eye injury previously impacted his depth perception and appeared to make him less sure of himself when he had the puck on his stick.

But constant repetition and consistent playing time has improved that facet of his play, as he has reverted back to trusting his instincts rather than trying to anticipate the play.

“The more hockey you play, the more automatic things become. You kind of get into the groove as the season goes along where you’re not always thinking too much, you’re just playing,” Staal said. “At the large part at the beginning of the year, I was thinking too much of what I should do next instead of just reacting or playing, and those decisions [that] become natural and automatic to you weren’t there really at the beginning. Throughout the year, I think that’s gotten better.”

Staal’s return to form has been a godsend to the Rangers, particularly in the playoffs when neutralizing an opponent’s top players becomes even more critical throughout the course of a seven-game series. The Rangers already boast an outstanding first defensive pairing in Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, but Staal’s steadiness on the blue line has meshed seamlessly with the understated, yet heady, Anton Stralman.

The two players handled important minutes Friday against both Sidney Crosby's and Evgeni Malkin’s line.

“He’s a great player. He’s very underrated I think,” Staal said of his Swedish counterpart. “He doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves. He’s been playing great all year long. Very smart with the puck, very good positionally and he’s got a good stick. We work well together, so we want to keep that going.”

The Rangers do, too. The team’s forward depth has provided an edge already during this playoff run, and the team’s balance on the back end is becoming a tremendous asset, as well. The defensive corps effectively shut down Philadelphia’s top line in the first round of postseason play, and it already seems to be thriving against a top-heavy Penguins team that has opted to both load up Crosby and Malkin and use them on separate lines so as to create a more balanced attack.

Neither player scored a goal Friday. Crosby was held off the scoresheet for the 12th consecutive playoff game and finished the night at minus-3. If this trend continues, and Staal remains an integral part of the equation, the Rangers will be in excellent shape.

“That’s a benefit of the team and why we’re in the second round, probably,” Richards said.” It’s gonna be tough every night with those guys [Crosby and Malkin]; they’re world-class players and they’re going to keep coming. It’s going to be a challenge for [Staal and Stralman], but we’re very happy to have them back there doing what they’re doing.”

Rangers angry about Neil hit

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil has never been a very well-liked guy within the New York Rangers’ dressing room. Not since he concussed Brian Boyle in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in 2012.

[+] EnlargeChris Neil
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesChris Neil nailed Marc Staal into the boards, which started a big fight between the Rangers and Senators.
Suffice it to say he did nothing to endear himself further with his hit on Rangers defenseman Marc Staal in the team’s 3-2 loss to the Senators Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Neil, a player who certainly straddles the edge with his rugged, abrasive-type game, rammed Staal into the boards with 2:47 remaining in the game. Staal responded by chasing down Neil as the two engaged in a nasty tussle that led to pairs of players tangled up in a heated fracas that followed.

Even though Neil was not penalized on the play, Staal’s teammates were not happy with what they saw.

“I think it’s a dirty hit, a blind-side hit that’s a little late, so that’s how players react,” said Zuccarello, who received a two minute roughing minor for squaring off with Zack Smith after the play.

The scrum resulted in Staal earning an extra roughing minor, leaving the Rangers shorthanded for 2:00 of the remaining 2:47 minutes of the game.

“It’s unbelievable how they get a power-play out of that,” said Zuccarello, whose two-goal performance in the second period pulled the Rangers within a goal of tying the game.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was similarly displeased, by the hit itself, the fact that it went unpenalized, and the resulting Senators power-play once the tempers had diffused.

“I think it’s a brutal call, first of all,” he said. “Their guy comes in first and [Staal] comes in after, so it should definitely not be a four-minute for him, but I definitely think it’s a late hit. There were a couple of different calls [to make] on that hit. It’s a late hit, too many strides, but it is what it is.”

Staal was not in the locker room after the game, but according to a Rangers spokesperson, he is not suffering any ill effects from the play.

“He’s fine,” the spokesperson said after the game.
Staal has missed significant time the previous two season with both a serious concussion and a harrowing eye injury. The Rangers are already without top defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who is sidelined with a “day-to-day” shoulder injury.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Blackhawks

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
At a glance: The New York Rangers pick back up following the two-week Olympic break with a tough task in their return to Madison Square Garden, where they will host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhwaks on Thursday. With 23 games remaining in the regular season, the Rangers are in good shape for the playoffs as they sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Philadelphia Flyers, who play the San Jose Sharks Thursday, aren’t far behind though. The Flyers trail the Rangers by only one point heading into Thursday’s action with the two bitter rivals set to clash this weekend in Philly. Meanwhile, the Hawks are slugging it out with the St. Louis Blues for the Central Division title with the two clubs tied with 84 points.

Trade talk: With less than a week to go before the March 5 trade deadline, rumors and speculation are ramping up. Of course, the fodder includes Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Callahan’s camp and the Rangers remain at an impasse on a contract extension for the 28-year-old winger, making it appear increasingly likely that he gets dealt before next Wednesday. Recent reports have linked the Rangers to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis, who reportedly requested a trade to New York prior to the Olympic break. Defenseman Dan Girardi is also a pending UFA and could be on the move.

Waiting game: Defenseman Marc Staal, who has been battling back spasms, will be a game-time decision. Staal participated in the team’s morning skate and is expected to play unless he suffers a setback.

Give Hank a break: Given Henrik Lundqvist’s busy schedule in Sochi -- he led Team Sweden to the gold-medal game though the Swedes lost to Canada -- backup netminder Cam Talbot gets the start vs. the Hawks Thursday night. According to coach Alain Vigneault, Lundqvist will be back in net starting Saturday in Philadelphia.

Not just yet: Derek Dorsett, who has been sidelined with a broken leg since January, will not make his return Thursday despite having practiced with the team on Wednesday. He’ll have to wait a few more days before Vigneault re-inserts him into the lineup. Recently-recalled J.T. Miller will play on a line with Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard with Mats Zuccarello sidelined with a hand injury.

St. Louis addresses trade talk

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
GREENBURGH, N.Y -- Rangers forward Ryan Callahan isn't the only captain fielding questions about his future in the week leading up to the NHL's trade deadline on March 5.

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis returned home from Sochi, Russia with little time to revel in Team Canada's gold medal-winning performance in the 2014 Olympic games. Instead St. Louis was asked to address the rampant rumors that he had requested a trade from Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman after he was initially left off Team Canada's roster Yzerman, who also constructed the Canadian national team, later added the 38-year-old veteran forward as an injury replacement for Steven Stamkos.

In short: St. Louis did not deny it.

"I've had talks with Steve about my future with the team and I'll leave it at that," St. Louis told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Why is this relevant in New York? According to the New York Post, Rangers general manager Glen Sather called Yzerman to inquire about St. Louis' availability, though Yzerman did not seem to reciprocate interest in a deal involving the Art Ross Trophy winner for a rental player in Ryan Callahan, who is a pending unrestricted free agent. The Rangers and Callahan's camp remain at an impasse in a contract extension for the 28-year-old winger.

A league source confirmed to that St. Louis was unhappy after the initial snub by Yzerman, though it is not immediately known if the damage has since been repaired. St. Louis does have a no-move clause in his contract, though it is believed that New York would be an appealing destination to him since he has a home in Connecticut and trains there during the off-season.

Though it does not appear anything is imminent on the trade front, the situation in Tampa is one to monitor closely as the deadline nears.

• • •

Defenseman Marc Staal, who has been hampered recently by back spasms, said he felt better on the ice during practice Wednesday. Assuming he feels the same Thursday morning and experiences no setback or tightness, he expects to be in the lineup against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.

• • •
Derek Dorsett (leg) took part in a full team practice Wednesday, though Alain Vigneault said he plans on holding the gritty forward out until the team's back-to-back set this weekend.

• • •

With starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist one of seven players returning from the Olympics, backup netminder Cam Talbot will get the start Thursday vs. the Hawks. Lundqvist will be back in goal Saturday against the Flyers.

Staal stars offensively and defensively

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
NEW YORK -- Rangers coach Alain Vigneault heaped praise upon defenseman Marc Staal prior to Friday's 4-1 win over the Islanders, talking at length about how well he has played recently.

Staal was due for more accolades following the team's third consecutive win -- second straight against the Islanders -- as he finished the night with a pair of assists.

[+] EnlargeKyle Okposo, Marc Staal
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesMarc Staal had two assists in Friday's win over the Isles.
He picked up the first on Brian Boyle's equalizer in the second and executed a beautiful cross-ice feed to Derick Brassard for the go-ahead goal in the third.

"He's done a hell of a job lately," Boyle said. "Especially the last three games."

Staal was particularly stout during the team's Stadium Series sweep in the Bronx, but it's not just his defensive sturdiness that has him at the top of his game.

He's chipping in offensively as well, making reads with the puck and joining the play when needed.

"Since Christmas, coming back off the injury, I felt better," said Staal, who was sidelined with a concussion for 10 games in December. "I just felt more confident and comfortable on the ice. I've been able to make the plays I am used to making."

Staal, who mans the second pairing with Anton Stralman, has been a pivotal piece on the Rangers' back end for years, though he has endured an unfortunate rash of bad injury luck the past two seasons. Last season, he was limited to just 21 games because of a harrowing eye injury. The previous year, Staal missed more than half the season with a concussion.

Prior to the game, Vigneault said Staal was playing his best stretch of hockey since he's taken over behind the bench.

"He seems to be more comfortable," Vigneault said. "He's protecting the puck real well, and he's moving it and showing a lot of poise with it. I am hoping that it continues because he has been really solid back there for quite some time now."

After lauding the 27-year-old blueliner in his postgame news conference Wednesday night, Henrik Lundqvist said he paid Staal extra attention Friday night. He was pleased with what he noticed.

"He's making good decision all over the ice," said Lundqvist, who finished the night with 38 saves. "He made some good plays defensively and offensively tonight. He's playing a big part for us right now, and it's fun to see."

Rangers seize Stadium Series sweep

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
NEW YORK -- Wednesday night's game in the Bronx was a starkly different game from Sunday's rout of the New Jersey Devils -- an offensive onslaught that saw two teams combine for 10 goals -- but the New York Rangers won this one, too, dispatching the Islanders 2-1 to complete a Stadium Series sweep.

There wasn't much room on the ice, the temperature was a bit more frigid and both teams had to battle with a bouncing puck all night long. But despite a desperate Islanders club that came with a furious flurry in the third period while trying to avoid its fourth straight loss, the Rangers held on for the second consecutive win at Yankee Stadium.

[+] EnlargeLundqvist
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesHenrik Lundqvist said the Yankee Stadium experience was "awesome."
Again, the place was packed, with 50,027 in attendance.

"It's a great stadium, but you need the fans to make it special," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the night with 30 saves. "It was awesome. Again."

Give credit to the Rangers for keeping a tight focus. Never once amidst the pageantry surrounding the pair of outdoor games did the Blueshirts fail to grasp the importance. Two bitter division rivals. Four points at stake. The Rangers didn't squander the opportunity despite the ample distraction.

With five wins in their past seven games, the Rangers improved to 29-23-3, tied in points (61) with fifth-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference and firmly entrenched in second within the Metropolitan Division.

"You take it all in the day before, but when it comes to the game, you really bear down and focus," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.

A tight-checking game that was scoreless through almost the first two periods saw the Rangers surrender the game's first goal to rookie forward Brock Nelson with 1:27 remaining in the second. The Rangers answered back almost immediately, though, tying the game just 40 seconds later on Benoit Pouliot's equalizer with 47 seconds remaining in the frame.

It was a goal that changed the game, one that was set up by Derick Brassard as he tried to bank the puck off the backside of Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

"We knew that Nabokov was coming really hard out of his crease and ... I tried to bank it off his back to go in and I missed both times. The last time I thought I hit [Pouliot] right in the chin and it went in," Brassard explained. "It was not pretty."

Fourth-line forward Daniel Carcillo added what would stand up as the game winner 4:36 into the third period, banging home a rebound on a 4-on-2 rush.

The Rangers held on the rest of the way, despite some quality chances from the Islanders' top line. The win allowed them to savor the experience that much more.

"That's like the highlight of my career so far," Brassard said of the two games. "Just to play here. I think when both teams come out of the tunnel, I think that's when you realize that it's awesome. You share the passion of the game with so many people. The game meant something."

Defenseman Marc Staal, who also played in the Winter Classic against the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2012, gave a similar endorsement.

"These are a ton of fun to play in. I could play in 50 of these a year," said Staal, who was awarded the MVP Broadway Hat. "It's a lot of fun being out in that atmosphere."

Seeing his charges gut out a win in such challenging weather conditions afforded coach Alain Vigneault a new perspective on his club.

Granted, he cringed a bit when seeing guys block shots, but was impressed with both the sacrifice and commitment on display, nonetheless.

"It takes a lot of courage to do those things on a night like this," Vigneault said. "Our guys did it and we've got to keep doing it if we're going to win and get into the playoffs."

This is looking now like a team that is beginning to come together. A team that may actually be capable of doing some damage come playoff time.

Both Vigneault and Lundqvist have seen a change in the past few months. They hope it continues.

"We're starting to grow together as a team," Lundqvist said. "Now's the time to do it."

Rangers soak in atmosphere at Stadium

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
New York RangersDave Sandford/NHLI/Getty ImagesA day before their Stadium Series match with the Devils, the Blueshirts had some fun in the Bronx.
NEW YORK -– Saturday was the day for the Rangers to soak it all in -- the atmosphere and ambiance of an NHL rink placed smack dab into one of the most famous venues in all of sports. Friends and family members took a twirl on the foreign ice and players experimented with eye black and extra layers as a flurry of snowflakes ended a novel practice day with a flourish.

But when the Rangers take the ice as the visiting team in Sunday’s match against the New Jersey Devils in the first of two Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, they’ll do so with the narrow focus of securing a critical two points.

That’s the margin that separates the Rangers and the Devils in the Metropolitan Division standings right now, and that is ground the Blueshirts are loathe to surrender.

[+] EnlargeRangers at Yankee Stadium
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images"This is the day you get to enjoy it," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said.
Heading into Sunday’s action, the 27-23-3 Rangers are second in the Metropolitan Division with 57 points while the 22-19-11 Devils are making a push from behind with 55 points and two straight wins.

“The whole practice we were all kind of looking around. This is the day you get to enjoy it,” captain Ryan Callahan said. “But we’re all professionals. We know when we’re coming in tomorrow, it’s two points on the line.”

The shifts may be a bit shorter, the game plan a bit more simple, and the temperatures a bit more chilly, but the goal is the same.

This is, after all, the same team that knocked off the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals in the playoffs two years ago, and the rivalry still exists.

“It’s exciting, but, if we were at MSG or in Jersey, it would be a huge game no matter what,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “We’re really close and there are only so many games where you can make some distance up or keep 'em down, so it’s going to be big for us to try and get a win.”

By all accounts, the ice conditions were good. Plus, the Rangers have the benefit of outdoor game experience, having beaten the Philadelphia Flyers in the Winter Classic back in January 2012.

That 3-2 victory was capped with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's stop on Danny Briere's penalty shot with 20 seconds left in regulation.

It’s a game Lundqvist hasn't forgotten and he expects Sunday’s match to be the same.

“It’s a game you will remember for the rest of your life,” he said.

Lundqvist wore new pinstriped pads for practice, which he will don in Sunday’s game -- an homage to the Yankees organization and all of the legendary players to wear those uniforms.

Ever since the NHL created the Winter Classic as its signature event, Lundqvist has been hoping to have one on home turf.

Sunday, his wish will be granted.

“Playing in New York and in Yankee Stadium -- it’s a very special thing. We wanted to do this for a long time,” Lundqvist said. “We talked about it when they started the Winter Classic games, that hopefully one day we’d get the opportunity to play at Yankee Stadium."

W2W4: Rangers vs. Lightning

December, 29, 2013
At a glance: Rangers coach Alain Vigneault will return to franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning after giving three straight starts to backup Cam Talbot. Though Lundqvist has struggled as of late, he'll try to turn his game around as the Rangers aim to rebound from Friday's 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals that has the Blueshirts in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile, the Bolts are in 3rd place despite the absence of superstar Steven Stamkos, who remains out with a broken leg, and have rattled off five wins in the past six games.

Slumping stars: The Rangers need more production from some of their top offensive players, namely Rick Nash and Brad Richards. Nash has been held without a goal in the last seven games while Richards is goalless in the last nine. Their slumps do not bode well for a 27th-ranked offense that has managed only 2.26 goals per game.

On the mend: Injured defenseman Marc Staal continues to make progress from a concussion sustained December 7. The 28-year-old skated with the team on Sunday and, according to the New York Daily News, did not rule out being able to play in Tuesday's game against the Florida Panthers. Captain Ryan Callahan also skated in full gear for the first time since suffering a knee sprain earlier this month; he is not expected to return until the first week of January at the very earliest.

Rangers rookie: 23-year-old defensive prospect Conor Allen will make his NHL debut Sunday against the Bolts, replacing an injured Anton Stralman (wrist) in the lineup. Allen has five goals and 13 points in 29 games for the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack. How long Allen will play up with the big club remains to be seen, though it does not appear that Stralman's injury is too severe. Stralman told reporters on Sunday that X-rays on his wrist came back negative.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Wild

December, 22, 2013
At a glance: Not even a win against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday could salvage what has become an atrocious nine-game homestand at Madison Square Garden for the Blueshirts, but they'll aim to knock their Western Conference foes in hopes of turning things in the right direction.

The Rangers enter Sunday's match with only one (shootout) win through the first seven games of their long stretch at MSG. They've whittled down two-goal deficits in three straight games but have only three points to show for it. Luckily for New York, Minnesota has dropped six of their last seven road games. The Wild are currently without starting goaltender Josh Harding, who was placed on injured reserve this week to deal with complications with his battle with multiple sclerosis. Harding had been outstanding for the Wild all season, posting an 18-5-3 record and a league-leading 1.51 goals-against average.

Change in net: After making his season-high eighth consecutive start in goal Friday night against the Islanders -- a 5-3 loss in which he surrendered four goals on 19 shots -- Henrik Lundqvist will have the night off on Sunday. The Rangers named backup netminder Cam Talbot the starter against the Wild. With back-to-back games -- the Rangers finish up their homestand against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday -- it is expected that Lundqvist will get the next start.

Staal resumes skating: Injured defenseman Marc Staal skated for the first time on Saturday since sustaining a concussion in the Rangers' 4-3 OT loss to the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 7. Staal skated on his own on Saturday and Sunday, though there remains no timetable for his return. The recent development is nonetheless a positive one by Staal, who has been hampered by injuries the past two seasons. He played only 21 games last season because of a harrowing eye injury and missed 36 games the season prior with a concussion.

Familiar foe: When Zach Parise was set to hit the open market as a free agent, he didn't hide his contempt for the Devils' division rivals. Asked if he'd ever consider joining the Blueshirts -- and yes, there was that interest on Broadway -- he gave an unequivocal "no." Suffice it to say, there won't be any love lost when Parise comes back to the Big Apple with his hometown Minnesota Wild. The star forward has only one point in the last five games.

Marc Staal resumes skating

December, 22, 2013
Injured defenseman Marc Staal skated on his own Saturday for the first time since suffering a concussion in a game against the New Jersey Devils December 7.

The Rangers announced the development via their official Twitter account, adding that Staal skated again Sunday.

This is a good sign for Staal, who missed substantial time (36 games) in 2011-12 with the lingering effects of a concussion. The 26-year-old blue-liner also sat out more than half of last season with a serious eye injury.

There is no timetable yet for Staal, though the next step -- barring any setbacks -- will likely be him rejoining the team for practice while he works on his conditioning.

In other Rangers news, backup netminder Cam Talbot will get the start Sunday vs. the Minnesota Wild.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Flames

December, 15, 2013
At a glance: Home sweet home? Not so much. The New York Rangers have dropped four straight to begin a nine-game homestand at Madison Square Garden that was expected to propel the Blueshirts upward in the standings. Instead, they have picked up only one of eight possible points heading into Sunday night’s game against the Calgary Flames. The Rangers hope to snap their skid against a plucky Flames squad that has won its last four road matches.

Rough stretch: The Rangers have given up four goals in each of the last four games, and Henrik Lundqvist was the starter in net for each. The former Vezina Trophy winner has yet to find his groove this season, and the Rangers have plummeted accordingly. Even so, coach Alain Vigneault continues to express confidence in Lundvqist, who will make his sixth consecutive start against the Flames.

Scrounging for scoring: Meanwhile, the Rangers have been stymied recently by a list of goalies that is not exactly noteworthy. The last four netminders they faced? Curtis McElhinney, Mike McKenna (who made his first NHL appearance since 2010-11 to replace an injured McElhinney), Carter Hutton and Philipp Grubauer. The Rangers have struggled to find the back of the net regardless, as their 28th-ranked offense has managed only 2.18 goals per game.

Banged-up Blueshirts: Again the Rangers will be without captain Ryan Callahan (knee) and defenseman Marc Staal (concussion), but they will return young center Derick Brassard to the lineup. Brassard missed Thursday’s game against his former team the Columbus Blue Jackets with a “sore posterior.”

Making changes: Looking to help his team out of this mess, Vigneault has split up top defensive pair Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. With a gaping hole on the team’s defense with Marc Staal out, Vigneault hopes the move provides the Rangers a bit more balance on the back end.

Shake-up at the Saddledome: The Flames have recorded two straight wins since the team dismissed general manager Jay Feaster on Thursday. Whoever replaces Feaster in Calgary will be taking notice of diminutive forward Paul Byron, who has been playing his tail off for the Flames of late. Said coach Bob Hartley: “He’s finding ways to spend Christmas in Calgary.”