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Rangers’ Adam Fox returning to form as he adjusts to life without Ryan Lindgren

SUNRISE, Fla. — Adam Fox approached the topic the same way he would a high-stakes moment in a game: Intellectually.

The Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Hurricanes on Thursday night was the 12th time in the last 13 games that Fox skated without his longtime defensive partner, Ryan Lindgren, who was out again after he aggravated the shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the longest stretch in both of their NHL careers.

As much as it would benefit Fox to have Lindgren by his side on the ice, the 2021 Norris Trophy winner recognizes just how paramount it is for the Rangers to have Lindgren at 100 percent in the playoffs.

“His health is our team’s main priority, my main priority,” Fox told The Post after the victory. “Obviously, it was nice to get a little taste of him back. But I think we know where we are in the standings and we have bigger goals than to win a game here and there. So, you know, his health is our priority. Obviously, he was good enough to play, but there’s no need to force anything or anything like that.

“I think Niko [Mikkola, Lindgren’s substitute alongside Fox] has done a great job. We had a bit of an adjustment period maybe of learning each other’s tendencies and I think he’s getting more comfortable, too. It’s a good adjustment for us both.”

Ryan Lindgren #55 of the New York Rangers is congratulated by teammate Adam Fox after Lindgren scored the game winning goal in the final seconds of the game against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden on November 21, 2021 in New York City.
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Fox and Lindgren, both 25, have been virtually inseparable since they were first paired up when Lindgren was called up during the 2019-20 season.

Since then, they’ve forged one of those most efficient defensive pairings for the Rangers in recent memory.

Lindgren and Fox make each other better.

Each allows the other to play to his strengths.

From 2019-22, they logged a staggering 2,475:59 of ice time together, and were on the ice for 116 Rangers goals and 82 against, according to Natural Stat Trick.

It only makes sense that Fox experienced a drop-off in his play as he adjusted to skating without Lindgren.

There have been a few uncharacteristic turnovers, out-of-position instances and rare miscues.

Still, Fox remains an anchor on the Rangers’ backend and a key contributor on offense.

He scored the game-winning goal on Thursday, when he buried a feed from Artemi Panarin early in the first period.

That extended Fox’s point streak to six games, over which he has racked up a goal and five assists.

His 11th goal of the season and 12th career game-winning goal Thursday night tied Fox with Ott Heller, Dan Girardi and Harry Howell for fifth place on the Rangers’ all-time list among defensemen.

“I think we both know how we are as individual players,” Fox said. “You put any two players, who I think we’re good players together, it’s obviously going to raise each other’s games. I think we are able to do that. I don’t think either one of us thinks we’re terrible without the other, but obviously, I think we do a good job of raising each other’s games.

“You do maybe fall into a comfort zone when you’re with a guy for so long. I hope we could play our whole careers together, but doesn’t always work out like that. I guess sometimes you got to adjust. Maybe the coach changes the D pairs mid-game one time and you got to make an adjustment.

“I don’t know if I’d call it a test, but it’s good to maybe feel it out how it is with someone else, too.”

New York Rangers' Adam Fox (23) celebrates his game-winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 23, 2023.
AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker

Lindgren’s absence hasn’t been the only factor impacting Fox’s play.

Fox cited the whole team’s need to stabilize after a whirlwind trade deadline in which the Rangers acquired two star forwards in Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane.

As a defenseman, he had to learn the new guys’ tendencies, while also adjusting to a new defensive partner, Mikkola, who was packaged with Tarasenko in the Rangers’ Feb. 9 trade with the Blues.

Now that the Rangers are “finding that second gear,” as Fox put it, the Jericho, N.Y., native is getting back his signature steady play, even without Lindgren.

Fox credited the leadership group’s ability to calm the rest of the team down amid the overwhelming aftermath of the trade deadline.

Head coach Gerard Gallant said the Rangers are making sure that Lindgren is fully ready the next time he steps on the ice for game action.

There’s no sense in rushing such a key player back when the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division are nearly locked in for the playoffs.

Last season, Lindgren missed Games 2, 3 and 4 of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Penguins after he suffered a lower-body injury in the regular-season finale.

He was not at 100 percent for the club’s run to the conference final.

Adam Fox looks to make a pass during the Rangers' win over the Hurricanes on March 23.
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Lindgren is the kind of player who, when at full strength, can be a difference-maker for the Rangers.

Fox was reminded what it was like to play again alongside Lindgren,  his good friend and defensive partner, during the Rangers’ 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes eon Tuesday.

The chemistry doesn’t just go away.

It’ll always be there.

The Rangers will need both Fox and Lindgren to be at their best come the postseason, and if Fox has to be without Lindgren for a while, so be it.

“You don’t lose those tendencies,” Fox said of how it felt to play that one game back with Lindgren. “We’ve seen each other’s games for a long time now. He had a big assist, too, shooting the puck on that one. It was nice to have him back. I’m obviously at my most comfortable when I’m with him, and you know, it’s nice.

“But we have bigger goals than a few games here and there. So as long as he’s 100 percent, then our team as a whole is a lot happier.”