Kaapo Kakko returns, takes injured Jimmy Vesey’s spot in Rangers Game 3 lineup vs. Panthers

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kaapo Kakko returned to the New York Rangers lineup for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers on Sunday. The forward replaced Jimmy Vesey, who is week to week with an upper-body injury sustained in New York’s thrilling 2-1 overtime win in Game 2 on Friday.

Kakko was a healthy scratch in Game 2 after playing in the first 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games this spring. Though his underlying numbers have not been bad, he has scored just one goal and two points.

The 23-year-old was replaced by Matt Rempe on Friday. Rempe played a big role in the victory, credited with nine hits in a bit more than 10 minutes of ice time. The 6-foot-8 rookie remained in the lineup Sunday for Game 3, his first road playoff game since the decisive Game 4 against the Washington Capitals in the first round.

“We made a decision to put Matt back in the lineup (in Game 2) … When somebody goes into the lineup, there’s a decision that has to be made on somebody else, ” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said about scratching Kakko in the previous game. “We donโ€™t take them lightly.”

Kakko returned to the third line to play alongside Alex Wennberg and Jack Roslovic on Sunday. Will Cuylle dropped down the fourth line to play with Rempe and Game 2 hero Barclay Goodrow.

Blake Wheeler, whom Panthers coach Paul Maurice called “an inspirational leader” before Game 3, took part in warmups but remained a healthy scratch. Wheeler has not played since sustaining a lower-body injury in February.

Related: Brennan Othmann among 13 Rangers reinforcements for playoffs

Jimmy Vesey injury forces Rangers to make lineup decisions

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Vesey was injured on an open-ice hit from Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg in the second period Friday. He left the ice favoring what appeared to be his left shoulder and didn’t return. He was ruled out for the series on Saturday.

“There are things that he brings to the table with regard to the way he plays โ€“ a checking line, the penalty kill,” Laviolette said about Vesey, who turned 31 on Sunday. “Everything factors into who comes back into the lineup … The good thing is up until Jimmy, we were getting healthier.”

Vesey has one goal and three points in 12 playoff games after the veteran had 13 goals and 26 points in 80 regular-season games.

The Rangers and Panthers are tied 1-1 in the best-of-7 series. Game 4 will also be played in South Florida, on Tuesday.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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