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Sitting out of game action for a prolonged period of time with an injury isn’t easy for any player to deal with, but Rangers forwards Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney had each other to get through it. 

“It was actually really nice that I had Kaap,” Rooney said after practice at MSG Training Center in Tarrytown on Monday. “We were battling to see who was going to come back first.” 

Added Kakko: “I think I was out a little bit longer, but that was good. Roons was with me on the ice, at the gym. So good for both of us.” 

Rooney and Kakko drew back into the lineup Saturday night against the Senators just in time to help the Rangers clinch a playoff berth with a 5-1 victory over Ottawa. While Kakko hadn’t played since Jan. 21 and missed 31 games, Rooney went down a little over a month later and was sidelined for 18 contests. 

The two spent a majority of their time on injured reserve together and seemingly worked through their recoveries side-by-side. 

Kevin Rooney
Kevin Rooney
Corey Sipkin

Both players declined to get into the specifics of their respective injuries. Kakko did acknowledge he was able to skate a lot, which coincides with speculation that the Finnish winger was dealing with a suspected wrist injury. 

“At least I could skate, so that was good for me,” Kakko said. “At the gym, I got some time. So I think I’m a little stronger right now and in better shape, that was good. Also, watching the games, that’s not so fun. They played great, but you want to jump on the ice and play with them. Sometimes a little boring, but good right now.” 

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Rooney, who is back in his usual fourth-line center spot, said he was secretly hoping the Islanders would beat Carolina on Friday so the Rangers could punch their ticket to the dance themselves against the Senators the following night. There were some jitters in the first game back, Rooney said, but the goal was to come in and not disrupt the Rangers’ recent success. 

Kakko noted that getting back in the Rangers’ lineup when he and Rooney did somewhat made it easier on them. Considering how well the team is playing, Kakko said, they just wanted to join the fray. 

“I liked him, I thought he was real good,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said of Kakko in particular. “I think him and Rooney both, for missing the amount of time that they missed, they were both good players the other night. Kaapo had a couple real good shifts down low, where he spun off guys and made some plays. 

Kaapo Kakko
Kaapo Kakko
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“I thought they played really well for that first game back, better than I expected to be honest.” 

The Rangers’ locker room became a tad more crowded before Kakko and Rooney returned to the lineup, with four new players — Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte and Justin Braun — coming in ahead of the trade deadline. Motte may be injured, but Rooney feels the lineup competition has been good for the team. 

“We got a deep team, we’ve got a lot of guys right now,” Rooney said. “There’s a lot of competition and if you want to go the distance, you’re going to need everyone. Every good team I’ve been on, there’s always been competition throughout the lineup and it’s nice to have that here. We just want to finish off strong and see how high we can climb in the standings.”

Source: NYPOST

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