Justin Braun settles in on defense in place of Ryan Lindgren
PITTSBURGH — Justin Braun went from playing in a top-four role on defense for the Philadelphia Flyers to being the seventh defenseman on the Rangers after being acquired at the March 21 trade deadline.
Braun played in only eight of the final 19 regular-season games and was a healthy scratch for Game 1 of the playoffs against the Penguins.
But when Ryan Lindgren was forced out of the lineup with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot in Game 1, Braun was called on to step into the lineup. He suited up for Games 2 and 3 and took Lindgren’s place alongside reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing,’’ Braun said of being left out of the lineup in Game 1. “But at the same time, coming from a team that’s already at home right now, it’s good to be even in this situation at this point in the season.
“You’ve got to be ready when you’re called on, and I tried to prepare as much as I could, like I was playing Game 1. And I think it helped me going into Game 2.’’
Braun had an assist in that game on Andrew Copp’s goal that opened the scoring in a 5-2 Rangers victory. The Rangers lost, 7-4, in Game 3 on Saturday and trail the best-of-seven series two games to one. Game 4 will be played Monday at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena.
Because Fox, Jacob Trouba and rookie Braden Schneider are ensconced in the top three spots on the right side of the Rangers’ defense, the 6-2, 205-pound Braun has played on his “off’’ side of the defensive pairing with Fox, even though Braun is a righthanded shooter.
Braun, 35, has appeared in 102 playoff games in his 12-year career (most of them with San Jose) and has looked just fine on the left side. He has one assist and one minor penalty and is a plus-1 while averaging 17:29 of ice time in two playoff games.
Playing with Fox helps make it easier to adjust, he said.
“Give him the puck and you can see what he can do,’’ Braun said. “He’s a special player, and I just try and make sure I’m open for him when he needs me. But you know, you watch him and Bread [Artemi Panarin] in the [offensive] zone sometimes. Sometimes I just get to be a spectator for that magic out there.’’
The numbers suggest that the Rangers need to tighten up their defense. Although they are fifth among the 16 playoff teams in goals scored with an average of four per game, they are tied for third-worst in average goals allowed (4.33). They’ve allowed 53.7 shots per game in the playoffs, which is the most of any team.
Saturday’s loss included two empty-net goals, however, and the shot numbers have been skewed by having to go to triple-overtime in Game 1 (a 4-3 loss in which the Rangers allowed 83 shots on goal).
“The first period the score [4-1] was a lot worse than I thought we were actually playing,’’ Braun said of Saturday’s game. “But yeah, you’ve got to keep the shot totals down. But they are a high shot-volume team, so you can’t look at that sometimes.
“If they just throw a lot of pucks to the net that really aren’t dangerous or anything, that they’re just trying to create scrambles, then they’re one-and-done. You clear them out.’’
Notes & quotes: Coach Gerard Gallant gave the Rangers off on Sunday. They will have a full morning skate Monday before Game 4 . . . Gallant said he hopes Lindgren will be able to skate and feels good. He is listed as day-to-day . . . Forward Tyler Motte, who has been out with an upper-body injury and who Gallant said could return at some point during the series, did not make the trip to Pittsburgh but has skated, Gallant said. Motte was injured April 7 against the Penguins. He was an effective penalty-killer after being acquired by the Rangers at the trade deadline.