Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney return to the Rangers lineup

After a lengthy absence, Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney returned to Rangers’ line-up just in time to help the club secure a playoff berth with a 5-1 win over the Senators on Saturday night.

The forwards were activated from injured reserve and now have 10 regular-season contests to get back into shape. Kakko has been sidelined for the last 31 games with a suspected wrist injury. Rooney was also out with an undisclosed upper body injury and missed 18 games.

While Rooney returned to his usual fourth-row center post between Dryden Hunt and Ryan Reaves, Kakko joined the third unit alongside Alexis Lafreniere and Barclay Goodrow, who replaced the injured Filip Chytil at center. Rooney eventually led 15-27 to victory with two shots on target and two goals.

Kakko had played on the top line right wing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad in the weeks leading up to his injury, but Frank Vatrano, who had taken over the trade deadline, was successful at this point.

Kaapo Kakko controls the puck against Erik Brannstrom in Rangers' 5-1 win over Senators.
Kaapo Kakko controls the puck against Erik Brannstrom in Rangers’ 5-1 win over Senators.
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Kakko, who didn’t score a single shot on Saturday at 13:01, is also a right wing option alongside Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome on the second row. Another newcomer, Andrew Copp, has developed chemistry with the bread-and-butter duo.

“Every game he’s played since he’s been here with us I think he’s shown more confidence – better with the puck, better off the puck – and I think he’s working really hard,” Zibanejad said of Kakko. “It’s something you can always control. You can’t always control the bounces and puck luck and stuff like that, or whether he goes in or not. But I think that’s the only thing you can control and I have a feeling he’s getting that more and more.

“We also talked to the other young people about just becoming more professional and doing the little things that matter. That’s something I’ve seen of him. It’s not easy being away for so long but I’m sure he’s looking forward to being back.”

In the 37 games he played before his injury, Kakko had five goals and nine assists. Kakko could return to the top six sometime in the final stretch of the regular season but the Finland winger has played alongside Lafreniere for many minutes and could handle the familiarity well.

“He just grew,” said coach Gerard Gallant of Kakko. “He took another step. He’s trying to be a man. He controls the puck, he’s good down. We want him to score more and take another step there, but he’s been injured for eight or nine weeks now. We’ll see where it goes. He might need a bit of time here but I know he’s in good shape and looking forward to playing.”

Veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth was scratched in favor of Justin Braun, who formed the third pair of defenders alongside Braden Schneider. … Ryan Reaves returned to the lineup after serving as a healthy scratch in the previous two games, replacing Jonny Brodzinski in the fourth row. Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney return to the Rangers lineup


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