The Rangers' third line was one of their most impactful during the playoffs. Kaapo Kakko, who usually played on the right of Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil, was a healthy scratch for Game 6 against the Lightning on Saturday.
ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan asked New York Rangers coach Gerard Gallant to explain dropping the No. 2 overall pick in 2019.
Gallant said, "Nope."
After the 2-1 setback and playoff elimination, he doubled down.
"I won't," he said. Not now.
You could argue he doesn't owe the fans an explanation, but it wouldn't be a decent one since they need one. Kakko's arrival to the lineup may not have been enough to offset the team's offensive woes.
Ryan Strome's injury, which has bothered him since Game 5, made Gallant's choice unacceptable.
The loss concluded a pleasant postseason run for Kakko's young team. The Rangers led the series 2-0 after two comfortable wins. In Game 3, the Lightning adjusted and exposed New York's shortcomings. Never recovered.
Mika Zibanejad stated, "It's denial." "I'm void. I'm speechless.
Rangers' five-on-five play was a concern. Their power play helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final, but they couldn't score at even strength. The Blueshirts scored easily in Games 1 and 2, but once in the last four.
Game 6 was problematic.
The Rangers started off lifeless. Tampa Bay controlled 65.9% of shots and 73.7% of projected goals. The Bolts took the lead in the second period.
New York's trade-deadline addition Frank Vatrano knotted the game in the third, but Steven Stamkos scored 21 seconds later.
New York's trade-deadline addition Frank Vatrano knotted the gaIgor Shesterkin was superb, but the skaters in front of him were bleeding chances. The Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist saved 60.4 goals above expectations in 73 games this season (including the regular season and postseason).
me in the third, but Steven Stamkos scored 21 seconds later.
The Lightning adjusted to stop the top line. In Game 6, Gallant couldn't move Zibanejad's line away from Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, and Brandon Hagel.
"As the series went on, we grew better, and tonight may have been our finest," Killorn said. "That's vital for Stanley Cup. The team that improves the most usually wins.
Cooper outmanoeuvred and outcoached Gallant. Gallant, a popular players' coach who makes many choices by feel, didn't have it in this series.
Some of those young players are due for new contracts, and the Rangers will feel the salary-cap pinch. Kakko is an RFA. Perhaps they should trade him and let him develop elsewhere.
The team's veteran bunch raises questions as the offseason begins. Strome's Rangers career may be over. The team can't afford to keep Vatrano, Copp, Motte, and Braun. Jacob Trouba's $8 million deal goes through 2026.
Rebuilding continues. If this series was a measuring stick, the Blueshirts don't measure up to the last two Stanley Cup winners.
"We could've been eliminated in the first round in five games. We fought. "Everyone contributed," stated Adam Fox.
"This room has a fantastic mix of young and older men who assist lead us. Good locker room. Our series battle showed it.
"Wish for a better ending, but our team seems promising."