Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers reacts after giving up a goal...

Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers reacts after giving up a goal to Steven Stamkos of the Lightning during the third period in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Julio Aguilar

In his first year coaching the Rangers, Gerard Gallant was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the coach of the year. Gallant didn’t win the award, which went to Darryl Sutter of the Flames, but he had a good year.

The Rangers started the season with a playoffs-or-bust mandate and realized that easily, racking up 110 points in the regular season, tied with the Lightning for the seventh-best point total in the 32-team league.

Once they got to the postseason, they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Penguins in the first round, then rallied from 3-2 down to beat the Hurricanes in Game 7 — on the road — to advance to the Eastern Conference Final against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning.

The Rangers grabbed a 2-0 series lead and a 2-0 lead in Game 3 before losing that game and the next three. The series ended with Saturday’s 2-1 loss in Game 6 in Tampa.

Still, the first season in which the Stanley Cup window opened for the Rangers was wildly successful, probably more so than anyone might have predicted.

Goaltender Igor Shesterkin, 26, played well enough to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP and almost certainly will win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

But the season ended on a strange note for Gallant, who decided to scratch forward Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, in the final game of the season Saturday. That decision was something of a head-scratcher, one the coach chose not to explain either during the game, when asked by ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan, or afterward in his postgame media briefing.

Whatever Gallant’s reasoning was to scratch Kakko, it didn’t appear to help the Rangers reverse the roll the Lightning had gotten on. Tampa Bay got two goals from captain Steven Stamkos, and the second came just 21 seconds after Frank Vatrano’s power-play goal with 6:53 left tied the score at 1-1.

Several young Rangers made great strides under Gallant this season. Second-year defenseman K’Andre Miller, 22, continued to develop into a poised, minutes-eating, two-way defenseman. Second-year forward Alexis Lafreniere, 20, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, was criticized a couple of times by Gallant early in the season but scored 19 goals in the regular season and had a strong postseason. Center Filip Chytil, 22, struggled in the regular season but blossomed in the playoffs.

The Rangers will look different next season. Center Ryan Strome, who played only two periods in Game 6 before being unable to continue because of a lower-body injury suffered in Game 3, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, as will all four of general manager Chris Drury’s trade deadline acquisitions: Vatrano, Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte and Justin Braun.

But what does Kakko’s being scratched for the first time in his career mean for the future? The 21-year-old will be a free agent, too, albeit a restricted free agent. Will the Rangers, who are looking at serious salary-cap issues next season, want to bring him back? Will he even want to come back?

On Sunday, the agent for forward Vitaly Kravtsov announced on Twitter that his client had signed a one-year contract extension with the Rangers worth a reported $875,000. Could Kravtsov, who spent the season in Russia after refusing his assignment to AHL Hartford last fall, be a potential replacement for Kakko?

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