2 Rangers youngsters appear set for important roles in Game 1 against Capitals

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Peter Laviolette is not going to reveal his lineup nor line combinations and defense pairings ahead of the New York Rangers’ Game 1 against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round playoff series Sunday. But it appears that two youngsters are going to play important roles for the Blueshirts.

Based on how they skated the past three days at practice, including their final on-ice session Saturday, it looks like Matt Rempe will begin the series on the fourth line and defenseman Braden Schneider will skate with K’Andre Miller on the second pairing.

Of course, Laviolette could do something completely different Sunday, though that appears unlikely. Either way, he’s not sharing any lineup decisions.

“I’m not going to talk about any players … I’m not going to talk about iineups or lines or changes. So, none of that,” Laviolette explained Thursday. “I don’t see any need or reason to put that information out there.”

Related: Rangers unanimous choice over Capitals in 1st-round staff predictions

Matt Rempe, Braden Schneider set for important Game 1 roles for Rangers against Capitals

NHL: New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs
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Despite not playing consitently down the stretch of the regular season, it appears Rempe will get the nod over Jonny Brodzinski for the final forward spot in the lineup in Game 1. While Brodzinski provides more versatility and can better play up and down the lineup if needed, Rempe is a massive physical presence, an important asset because the Capitals can play a heavy game.

In particular, Rempe will keep his eyes on Capitals forward Tom Wilson, a major Rangers nemesis who will do his best intimidate New York’s skilled players with his punishing brand of hockey. Rempe will look to do the same against the Capitals, though in smaller does of ice time, compared to Wilson, who’s a top-six forward.

“I like the way he plays, plays hard,” Rempe told Mollie Walker of the New York Post about Wilson. “Very skilled player, as well. It’s a guy who does a lot of different things. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of respect for the guy.”

It’ll be a big plus for the Blueshirts if the 6-foot-8 rookie can keep Wilson in check from stepping over the line with his oft-dirty play, and at the same time punish Washington’s defensemen with a heavy forechecking presence.

The 21-year-old had 71 penalty minutes in 17 games this season, third most on the Rangers, but has been working on being an effective physical presence and staying out of the penalty box.

Schneider spent most of the season on New York’s third defense pair with Erik Gustafsson. But he turned in his best work of the season when he moved up to pair with Miller during an extended injury absence by Jacob Trouba late in the season.

Though Trouba reclaimed his spot on the second pair upon his return to the lineup, the Rangers captain struggled with his all-around game. Laviolette swapped Schneider back in alongside Miller in the final games of the regular season and that pair has skated together in practice this week. If that continues Sunday, Trouba will continue as Gustafsson’s partner.

Schneider was one of five Blueshirts to play all 82 games this season, and the only defenseman to do so (Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, Chris Kreider and Alexis Lafreniere). The 22-year-old tied his NHL career high with five goals and established a new career best with 19 points. He averaged 15:53 in ice time per game and was extremely reliable and confident defensively.

During Trouba’s absence, Schneider often skated more than 20 minutes per game. He logged a season-high 27:36 in ice time on April 3 against the New Jersey Devils, when Trouba and Miller received game misconducts for their part in a line brawl just three seconds into the Rangers win.

If indeed Schneider plays up on the second pairing, there’s a chance he’ll face Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin and their top line, as well as the second line, featuring Wilson and Washington’s leading scorer Dylan Strome (27 goals, 67 points).

“Defense is the priority for us,” Trouba said. “We’ve got a great lineup, great goaltenders. Gotta just continue to play our game.”

Filip Chytil practiced again Saturday but is expected to be a scratch for Game 1. The center is trying to come back from an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion, sustained in November. Defensemen Zac Jones and Chad Ruhwedel are the other expected scratches for New York.

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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