Rangers' D is the key in Game 7

Updated: May 11, 2012, 12:06 PM ET
By Craig Custance

There were times during the regular season when frustration set in pretty heavily. Before suffering his concussion last season, New York's Marc Staal had been one of the best young defensemen in the NHL. At least one opposing coach thought Staal was on his way to a Norris Trophy.

In his return from the concussion this season, Staal didn't reach that level of play often.

"The games I've seen him, I haven't seen signs he's getting better," an NHL coach said shortly before the playoffs began. That's concerning.

During the regular season, three Rangers defensemen -- Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto -- averaged more than Staal's 19:53 of ice time per game. There were games, as John Tortorella leaned on his other defensemen, when Staal saw considerably less time than that. That's the challenge when you start your season in January while everyone else is in midseason form.

Now, we're witnessing the payoff of that plan.