Kaapo Kakko might have felt left out. If he did, he took action to address it.
Kakko’s one-timer tip-in with 2:28 left in the second period gave the Rangers their first lead over the Lightning on their way to a 3-2 win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final at the Garden on Friday night.
The goal, as well as the way it was set up, was a work of art.
Adam Fox, the Rangers defenseman who seems to do everything right with the puck on his stick, slid a perfect pass to Kakko, who was waiting at the crease’s edge to the left of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, through a narrow window between Tampa Bay defensemen Victor Hedman and Jan Rutta.
The Tampa Bay goaltender never had a chance, never saw the puck until it was behind him, because it happened so quickly.
When they got to the bench, the ESPN boom mic picked up Kakko saying to Fox, “Nice pass, Foxy.”
“‘Laf’ [Lafreniere] hit the post there and it was kind of a broken play,” Fox explained, “and Fil [Chytil] made a great pass to me and I just tried to get those defensemen [Hedman and Rutta] to move out of the way a little bit and a great tip by Kaapo there.”
It had to feel good for Kakko, who had been feeling a little left out with his linemates making more headlines recently with big plays.
Kakko, a member of the Rangers’ energetic, difference-making, headline-stealing Kid Line, hadn’t scored since Game 3 of their first-round series against Pittsburgh.
Afterward, Kakko said, “It always feels good to score a goal.” “I just stayed in front of the net and we had a few chances before Foxy got the puck and made a nice pass,” he said. For me, this is a simple task. Simply place it in the net.”
In 15 postseason games, the 21-year-old winger had only one goal and three assists for a total of four points. Meanwhile, his linemates have been humming.
Filip Chytil has seven goals and two assists in 16 playoff games, including two goals in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-2 Game 1 win over the Lightning. Alexis Lafreniere has seven assists and two goals.
“It was great to see him score,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said when asked if Kakko felt left out with his linemates playing so well. He’s a big kid who gets in front of the blue line and scores a big goal for us. “It’s great for Kaapo.”
Good news for the Rangers, who will head to Tampa, Fla., for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon with a 2-0 series lead. In the East finals, teams that have taken a 2-0 lead have won 91 of 98 times, or 93 percent of the time.