Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant finally provided some clarity on why he opted not to dress young forward Kaapo Kakko for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning after dodging the question following his team’s elimination on Saturday.
“Trying to win a hockey game. Just dressing my lineup,” Gallant said during his exit interview on Monday. “We sit down and talk about our lineup. That’s what we do. We love the kid. He’s a good player, a good young player.
“[It was] nothing about his game. It’s about the team game and the lineup. We had some game-time decision so that’s how we made it up. We weren’t sure what the lineup was going to be during the warmup.”
Kakko was benched for the seldom-used Dryden Hunt, who slotted in on the fourth line. Meanwhile, the productive “Kid Line” that featured Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Filip Chytil, was broken up.
The decision to bench the 21-year-old looked even worse after Ryan Strome — who tried to tough it out and play through a pelvic and abdominal injury — could not finish the game.
It left the Rangers desperate for offensive depth as they were held to just 21 shots in the 2-1 loss.
The loss was excruciating for the club but for Kakko, not being in the lineup was puzzling. Especially given the lack of communication.
“No, nothing,” Kakko said when asked about whether or not he was told about his benching. “I just saw the lineup and I wasn’t over there. That’s all that I know.
“I think all the games, there was nothing so bad. But I don’t know.”
Consider it fuel for the fire for next season and beyond.
“I’m going to show that I’m better than that,” Kakko continued about the motivation this brings. “You should put me in the lineup. I’m a good player.”