Being paired with reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox takes most of the spotlight away from defenseman Ryan Lindgren of the New York Rangers. It’s understandable, as Fox puts up high point totals and is the Rangers’ biggest driver of offense from the back end.
But while the 24-year-old Lindgren might not put up the offensive stats or do anything particularly flashy on the ice, his fit with Fox, his steadiness defensively, and his warrior-like mentality have all helped make a big difference for a Blueshirts team that has been pushed to the brink in this postseason but now somehow finds itself very much alive in a second-round series with the Carolina Hurricanes that is all even through four games.
The Rangers acquired Lindgren, then a 20-year-old collegiate prospect playing at the University of Minnesota, from the Boston Bruins as part of the very fruitful Rick Nash trade on Feb. 25, 2018. Originally a second-round pick (49th overall) of the Bruins in 2016, Lindgren was known as a physical presence without much offensive upside, but since breaking into the Rangers’ lineup as a regular in 2019-20, he has been an all-around stabilizing force defensively, who indeed brings quite a bit of physical bite. In this past regular season, Lindgren’s defensive impact was noticeable, as the Rangers were less prone to giving up high-quality chances in the low slot while Lindgren was on the ice versus when he wasn’t. That was reflected in their expected goals against rate of 2.50 per 60 minutes, which was four percent lower than league average.
While never posting more than 16 points in a regular season, Lindgren has been a good complement to Fox for most of their time playing together as a pair, as his dependability allows Fox to tap into his offensive game. As he’s entrenched himself as a mainstay on the Rangers’ blue line, Lindgren has also earned a reputation as a warrior and throwback hockey player, especially as he’s been battling through a lower-body injury throughout the playoffs.
#NYR Ryan Lindgren says he feels good, calls it a "lower-body thing" that he's not going to get into right now.— Mollie Walker (@MollieeWalkerr) May 25, 2022
"Never want to be sitting out, you know, especially during playoff time. You got to be smart, too."
He has been able to gut out some impressive performances in recent games, and even got involved offensively with two assists in Game 4 Tuesday night against the Hurricanes, including a shot from the top of the left circle that Fox, deep in the offensive zone, tipped in to stake the Rangers to a 2-0 lead in the first period. In the second period, Lindgren joined a rush up ice and got a shot off that Carolina goalie Antti Raanta could not secure, and Mika Zibanejad deposited the loose puck into the yawning cage for a 3-0 Rangers lead.
Following Game 4, Fox spoke to Lindgren’s timely contributions offensively despite that not being his calling card, his penchant to stick up for himself and for his teammates, and his overall effort and toughness:
Lindgren’s Impact Since His Return
The Rangers barely got by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, as they had to rally from a 3-1 series deficit and overcome large portions of games where the Penguins controlled the run of play.
The impact of Lindgren’s absence from the lineup cannot be discounted when examining how and why the Rangers fell into that hole in the first place, which was highlighted by two demoralizing defeats in Pittsburgh in Games 3 and 4, where New York played perhaps its worst defense of the season.
It seems possible that Lindgren has been dealing with his lower-body injury since the end of the regular season, when he appeared to be shaken up right at the end of the Rangers’ final game before the playoffs, a 3-2 home win over the Washington Capitals. He nevertheless suited up for Game 1 against the Penguins on May 3, but the game was a struggle for him — before he ultimately had to exit early — and the rest of the team, as the Penguins caved them in from the second period on, generating numerous scoring chances against the Rangers, who managed to get to triple overtime mostly thanks to Igor Shesterkin’s 79 saves in what was ultimately a losing effort.
Lindgren then missed Game 2, as his injury was too severe to play through. While the Rangers were able to win that one on home ice, his continued absence in Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh was magnified, as the Penguins put up seven goals in each game against a porous New York defense.
With the Rangers’ season on the line as they returned home for Game 5, Lindgren returned to the lineup in a gutsy performance that saw the Rangers stave off elimination and Lindgren himself get credited with the empty-net tally that sealed the game. Then, of course, the Rangers would rally to win the next two games and take the series.
Looking at some of the statistics from when Lindgren was out of the lineup versus the games after he returned highlights his importance to the team. In Games 2 through 4, which Lindgren missed, the Rangers yielded 4.59 expected goals against in all situations per 60 minutes (xGA/60) — the worst of any playoff team to that point. In Games 5 through 7, that number came down considerably to 3.48. It still was not great against a Penguins team that gave New York fits throughout the series, but it was a dramatic improvement, and just enough of one for the Rangers to be able to eke out three straight victories.
In the non-Lindgren games following Game 1, Fox, despite putting up points, struggled without his normal defense partner, as his personal on-ice xGA/60 mark was an ugly 5.87. With Lindgren back in the final three games of the series, that improved to a much stingier 2.04, while Lindgren sat at 3.10 — a number that is inflated by his time killing penalties, as the same number at five-on-five was a noticeably better 2.38. The table below summarizes these differences, reflecting how much of a factor Lindgren’s return was in the Rangers’ comeback against the Penguins.
Fox had perhaps his best game of the playoffs in Game 6, with four assists and an astounding 66.37 percent of the expected goal share at five-on-five. Lindgren was not far behind him at 62.53 percent.
Lindgren has carried his strong play into the current series against the Hurricanes (his fluky own-goal against in Game 1 notwithstanding), while the Rangers collectively have improved their defense and done a better job controlling play overall than they did against the Penguins. To that end, Lindgren’s expected goal share at five-on-five is 55.31 percent — third-best on the team. His partner, Fox, leads the team with a mark of 62.06 percent. The performances of Lindgren, Fox, and the Rangers as a unit are all the more impressive considering that their opponent is a team known for its ability to dictate the run of play, which seemed to make them a bad matchup for New York going into this series.
Lindgren and the Rangers still have a lot of work to do, as their series against the Hurricanes is now a best-of-three, with Carolina holding home-ice advantage. The Rangers will have to find a way to steal a game in Raleigh if they hope to win the series, but thanks in part to Lindgren having helped re-stabilize their defense, the Blueshirts certainly have a chance.