New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) skates back...

New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) skates back to the bench after scoring on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) in the first period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Friday, June 3, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Credit: AP/John Minchillo

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Kaapo Kakko said he was caught by surprise when he was left out of the Rangers’ lineup for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday.

He mentioned that no one took the time to explain to him why, with the Rangers facing elimination against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, he was a healthy scratch for the first time in his life.

“No, nothing,’’ Kakko said Monday at the Rangers’ breakup day at their practice facility. “I just saw the lineup and wasn’t [in] there, so that’s all what I know.’’

Coach Gerard Gallant, who initially refused to answer the question of why he scratched Kakko, said Monday he was simply “trying to win a hockey game.’’

“We love the kid. He’s a good player,’’ Gallant said. “But we just thought [choosing Dryden Hunt instead of Kakko was] the best lineup to try and win that game."

Kakko, 21, admitted he did not have a great regular season. He missed eight weeks with a left wrist injury and played in just 43 games, scoring seven goals with 11 assists.

He felt that he played well in the playoffs, where he had two goals and three assists in 19 games, and was part of the Rangers’ dynamic “Kid Line” with Filip Chytil, 22, and Alexis Lafrenière, 20.

"It’s never fun when you’re not making the lineup, so I wasn’t so happy about that,” Kakko said.

He said that the decision would likely not affect his thinking about whether he wants to return to the team next season. Kakko will be a restricted free agent this summer.

If anything, he said the move will give him “more motivation’’ to work harder than ever this summer, to prove himself to Gallant and the organization.

“I want to show, like, I’m better than that,’’ he said. “You should put me in the lineup. I am a good player.’’

Injury updates

Ryan Strome, who missed Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final with a lower body injury and didn’t play the final period in Game 6, said he did not suffer the injury from the cross-check he took from Ondrej Palat in Game 3, as originally thought. Instead, he said the injury, which he described as a pelvic injury, was something he was dealing with the second half of the season. The Palat hit aggravated it. He’ll find out on Tuesday whether he needs surgery, he said.

Defenseman Ryan Lindgren did not get injured blocking a shot in Game 1 of the first-round series against Pittsburgh, but rather in the last regular season game against Washington, he said. He won’t need surgery.

Barclay Goodrow said he won’t need surgery on his left ankle, which was broken while blocking a shot in Game 1 against Pittsburgh and caused him to miss the next 11 games.

Rangers, Kravtsov ink deal

The Rangers announced Monday they have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with forward Vitali Kravtsov, who spent last season in Russia after refusing his assignment to AHL Hartford at the end of training camp.

Kravtsov’s agent, Dan Milstein, had announced the agreement Sunday via Twitter, and noted that the contract is a one-way deal – meaning Kravtsov gets the same salary whether he is in the NHL or the minor leagues. Reports Sunday said the deal is worth $875,000.

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