The Rangers kid line is holding its own

When Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko took to the ice together Tuesday, it marked the first time any of the three had played a playoff game outside of the 2020 NHL postseason bubble.

Lafreniere has been up and down this season. Kakko spent much of the second half of the season rehabilitating injuries. The Kid Line played 28-13 overall in the regular season. One could wonder how well they would gel.

And although Rangers coach Gerard Gallant protected their matchups in Games 1 and 2 of the playoff series with the Penguins at the Garden — which he can’t do to the same extent when Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan has last game changes 3 and 4 — the kids were fine.

“Good, solid hockey,” Gallant said after an optional practice session on Friday. “I think they played well. They created a few scoring chances. Last night they only played 10 or 11 minutes for some reason. And I guess I’m the coach, but I thought they played more than that. That’s how the game felt. … For a kid line that competes against the lines they play against, I’m very happy with them.”

Kaapo Kakko (24) and Alexis Lafrenière (13) celebrate defeating the Penguins during Rangers' second game.
Kaapo Kakko (24) and Alexis Lafrenière (13) celebrate defeating the Penguins during Rangers’ second game.
NHLI via Getty Images

The trio were less conspicuous in Game 2 than in Game 1 on Thursday as they played an impressive 17:55 (albeit with more than a learning moment leading up to Evgeni Malkin’s game-winning goal). However, the three were a big part of why the Rangers are keeping all but one of Pittsburgh’s forward lines quiet.

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Sidney Crosby’s line has received quite a bit of attention, and with good reason. But the Penguins’ other three forwards, center Malkin, Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger, have scored in two games together.

When Gallant made this point Friday, he was answering the question regarding Crosby’s line, which remains an issue. However, three players cannot win a playoff series.

“They also have two other lines that are really good lines,” Gallant said. “Your second and third lines are really talented lines. Their 4th line is a good worker, they do their job the way they played the game, but their 2nd and 3rd lines are really talented too.”

Filip Chytil (72) fights for the puck.
Filip Chytil (72) fights for the puck.
USA TODAY sports

Jacob Trouba added: “Of course it’s great that the other three rows didn’t score as many points, but at the same time one row scored a lot of goals. But that line scored goals all year. You’re not going to just turn off the odds.”

Gallant isn’t someone who’s obsessed with matchups, but the dynamic will change on Saturday. That’s especially true for the Chytil line, which could see more time against the Penguins line of Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust.

“They will get their chances,” said Mika Zibanejad. “I don’t think you can stop them completely, but it’s all over the ice. They’re a good transition team too, and this line especially. Be smart with the puck and don’t give them anything for free, really. Let them earn it and I think that’s the way to go about it.”

Zibanejad’s line, along with the group of Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin, has been Gallant’s go-to for the minutes against Crosby’s line so far. In an easier test, the kids played well enough to hide their lack of experience.

“It’s kind of up to you guys to write about it and you guys to talk about it,” Zibanejad said. “We don’t talk about it. And I think there are some more than others, obviously there are always guys on teams that haven’t played – zero to very little playoff experience – and I think it’s just the guys that haven’t played much in the playoffs have played.

“It’s good to see them just play and not worry.” The Rangers kid line is holding its own


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