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Meet the Rangers 'Pain in the Ass' line, now with Eric Staal

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Oscar Lindberg (c.) and Viktor Stalberg (r.) now have Eric Staal on what Rangers coach Alain Vigneault calls his 'Pain in the ass' line, a unit that is proving itself.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Oscar Lindberg (c.) and Viktor Stalberg (r.) now have Eric Staal on what Rangers coach Alain Vigneault calls his ‘Pain in the ass’ line, a unit that is proving itself.

Viktor Stalberg and Oscar Lindberg are the most effective Rangers no one talks about, but Eric Staal’s arrival at center has made his wingers’ contributions impossible to ignore on a trio most accurately described as Alain Vigneault’s “Pain in the Ass Line.”

Stalberg and Lindberg have become experts at making opponents’ lives miserable. Staal is fitting right in.

“He’s more of a hard worker than you’d expect from a superstar,” Stalberg told the Daily News of Staal after Thursday morning’s optional practice in Greenburgh. “He’s a guy that’s been around, but he came here and I think he put the work-boots on. He’s great for the room. He’s a guy that’s won it. He talks a little bit in here, too. And he gets good positioning inside defensemen at the net. He reminds me of (Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan) Toews in that way.”

Staal has improved in his five games as a Ranger since the Feb. 28 deadline trade from Carolina. He is an asset on faceoffs, and his impressive net presence could see him supplant Chris Kreider on the top power-play unit come playoff time.

Before Staal got here, though, Stalberg and Lindberg were already rolling with Kevin Hayes at center as a hard-skating, physical duo that forces and wins battles and drives the team’s energy.

“I think we’re getting momentum, even if it’s not us that’s scoring, (another line is) scoring on the next shift after a good shift we’ve had,” Stalberg said. “We’d like to score more but I think we’re playing well together.”

They haven’t produced enough, however: Stalberg has no goals in 12 games and only two goals and five points in 26 games. Lindberg has just one goal and seven points in his last 24. Stalberg, though, has shifted his game into high gear since a lackadaisical, turnover-filled night in Winnipeg on Dec. 18 earned consecutive scratches.

“Sometimes you make mistakes, you feel it’s hurting your line and you lose confidence,” Stalberg said. “But as I get older I’m able to let those things go and reset. When I was younger, it frustrated me more. AV told me it wasn’t acceptable and if I didn’t get better I wasn’t going to be in the lineup. I think the Christmas break was timely for me, and I realized I maybe had to work a little bit harder.”

Lindberg, meanwhile, has become one of the Rangers’ heaviest hitters. When he avoids committing the penalties he’s prone to out of over-aggressiveness, he is a relentless finisher opponents must loathe

“I’ve been (hitting hard) since I played in Sweden, but this year not playing as many minutes, on the third line, you get more energy from doing that,” Lindberg said. “You’ve got to be smart. If you’re looking for (a big hit), you’re probably not gonna find it. It’s better to keep your mind on the game and not on running guys. But when chances come, it’s good for the team.”

INJURY UPDATES
Henrik Lundqvist (neck) and Rick Nash (left leg) put in their strongest rehab skates yet. They need Friday’s noon practice to test if they’re ready to return for Saturday afternoon’s game in Detroit … Marc Staal (back) did not skate, a concerning development that may lead to another Brady Skjei call-up. … Jesper Fast, who was limping after Tuesday’s win in Buffalo, was gimpy again in the hallways at Greenburgh. Fast is believed to be good to go for Saturday, but he’s withstood a lot lately: a broken nose and flu in late February, and now an unknown lower-body issue.

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