Marc Staal wasn’t sure when, or if, he would be able to return this season.

The All-Star defenseman, who has been out since getting hit in the right eye by a deflected puck against the Flyers on March 5, made his much-anticipated return last night, starting in the Rangers’ 4-3 season-saving win over the Capitals in Game 3 of their first-round series at Madison Square Garden.

“I didn’t know what to anticipate, to be honest,” said Staal. “I just wanted to get out there and get my feet wet and the guys did a good job around me of supporting me on the ice. I thought I’d be more nervous than I was. I felt pretty good going in. I think the confidence is going to grow the more I’m out there. I think I’ll feel a lot better next game.”

Staal, who had been skating since April 8 but had been having problems with blurred vision, was a sight to behold for Rangers fans, who greeted him with an overwhelming cheer when his face first appeared on the video screen, and then again when Staal’s name was announced in the starting lineup.

“The crowd was great,” said Staal. “It was a pretty good feeling to get back on the ice. I had chills the whole warm-up and stepping on the ice for the game, that was pretty special.”

Staal played 17:17, alongside Anton Stralman, and said he felt good physically and with his conditioning, while acknowledging his timing needs improvement, particularly in making his return to the faster pace of the playoffs.

Staal said his return was delayed by issues that arose with his eye last week, which have since cleared, but the game he returned to was not the game he had been seeing since he was a child.

“I could tell on the ice, it’s different,” said Staal. “You play your whole life with 20/20 vision and then you step out there and things definitely have changed. There are certain plays I saw a little different, but nothing I can’t get used to.