SAN JOSE – The Sharks had to deal with a shortened bench once already in their series against the Kings, when Logan Couture and Marty Havlat were hurt in Game 3. Couture missed most of the second period, while Havlat left after the first and didn’t return.
On Sunday in Game 6, it was the defense’s turn to play shorthanded, when Justin Braun suffered what appeared to be a back injury about four minutes into the game. It didn’t look promising when Braun fell to his knees in the Sharks’ defensive zone, took several moments to get to his skates, and was basically carried off of the ice while not putting any weight on his left side.
Braun was hit by the Kings’ Jordan Nolan in the neutral zone just in front of the bench, continued to skate for a few moments, before realizing he couldn’t continue.
“Just kind of kept the puck in, turned away from the hit, and got a little knock,” said Braun, who still didn’t know postgame who had hit him.
When it was suggested that it looked painful, Braun said: “Sore moving the leg right away. They loosened it up in the back, and got ready. … Just kind of one of those freak things. It happens, I guess. It’s never happened to me. It’s fine now.”
Braun, who entered the game third on the team in average time on ice for defensemen (20:05), returned to the bench at the end of the first period without taking a shift and went back to work in the second. He looked no worse for wear for the remainder of the 2-1 San Jose win.
The Sharks seemed to miss the defenseman, primarily paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic against the opponent’s top line, during his time in the trainer’s room. San Jose took a 1-0 lead on Joe Thornton’s power play goal a couple minutes after he left, but the Kings registered the final eight shots of the first period and hit three goal posts as San Jose escaped with a 1-0 lead at the intermission.
Todd McLellan credited assistant coaches and former NHL defensemen Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson with successfully managing the bench during Braun’s absence.
“Larry and Jim did a tremendous job there. When you see Brauny down the way he was, especially that early in the game, you’re not sure if he’s coming back. The game plan changed a little bit. You end up missing an individual that you want matched against a certain line,” McLellan said.
“We had discussed the fact that we still had [Brent Burns] if we needed to put somebody back there, which is one of the real good things about having him. But, Brauny found a way to get back into the game, and was a factor by the end of the night.”
Braun ended the night with 13 minutes and 51 seconds of ice time, with three shots on goal and an even rating. Scott Hannan skated 20:43 for the Sharks, a game high among blueliners.
Now, Braun, 26, is looking forward to the first Game 7 of his emerging NHL career.
“It’s going to be more of the same. Tight-checking, close game,” he said. “We’re going to have to go into their building and do what we haven’t done yet this series and win a game. I’ve never played in one, I’m real excited to play in a Game 7. Everything is on the line, it’s going to be great.”