Rangers tank-sized rookie plays special role in key Game 2 win over Panthers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There’s just something special about Rangers’ rookie Matt Rempe, and it’s not just one thing.

Sure, his 6-foot-8 frame is intimidating, and even more imposing when you add in his willingness to hit, and drop the gloves when needed. His mere presence in the lineup electrifies the crowd, sparks his teammates, and has hockey legends like Mark Messier vying for the 21-year-old tank-sized forward to be a permanent fixture in the Rangers’ lineup.

Above all this, his infectious smile and enthusiasm makes him easy to root for on a team full of stars. It’s a big reason why so many of his teammates have taken a special interest in the youngster making sure he knows they support him.

That was clearly evident in a line brawl to start a 4-3 Rangers’ victory over the rival New Jersey Devils in early April, essentially ending any hopes the Devils’ had of making the playoffs. After being called out by New Jersey enforcer Kurtis MacDermid for not answering a challenge in their previous matchup, where Rempe caught Jonas Siegenthaler with an elbow earning a four-game suspension, every Ranger on the ice stepped up for him.

“It’s just about having each other’s backs,” Barclay Goodrow said. “Remps has been doing that for us since he’s been here, so it was time for us to step up. A rivalry game at MSG, it doesn’t get much better than a line brawl to start it off.”

To date, Rempe has rewarded his teammates by playing hard and physical every time he gets a chance. On Friday night with the Rangers desperate to even their series against the Florida Panthers, he did just that.

Related: It’s a Goody win to even series

Matt Rempe plays special role in Rangers win

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final, there was plenty of lineup questions to see if the Rangers would adjust to a much nastier and heavier opponent than the Carolina Hurricanes.

Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette ultimately opted to change things up against the Panthers by reinserting Rempe in favor of a struggling Kaapo Kakko. While it may have seemed like a no-brainer for many, the rookie normally doesn’t play more than six minutes a game, which could be an issue in the later stages of a contest.

However, in what could be seen as a silver lining to losing Jimmy Vesey (upper-body) on a borderline head shot by Florida’s Ryan Lomberg, Laviolette was forced to play Rempe more than his usual ice time, even using him late in the third period and in overtime.

“I remember Lavi calling my name with two minutes left,” Rempe said after the 2-1 OT victory. “I was like, ‘Oh my God! Let’s go! Jiminy Crickets! Let’s go!’ I was just thrown out there and tried to buzz around… And then in overtime, I got a little O-zone shift and was pretty excited about that. It was such a blast.”

How can you not love this kid?

Rempe was drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2020 NHL draft, and made his NHL debut on one of the grandest stages possible. On February 18, he became the first player in history to play his first game outdoors at MetLife Stadium. It was also the six-year anniversary of losing his father, Rom Rempe. He honored his dad by winning his first tilt against Matt Martin and sparked his team to a thrilling 6-5 OT win over the New York Islanders.

Matter of fact, all the Rangers seem to do is win with him in the lineup. In eight playoff appearances the Blueshirts are 7-1 when he dresses. Coupled with their 14-2-1 record during the regular season, they are 21-3-1 when Rempemania gets a chance to run wild.

“The fans here are the best, unbelievable,” Rempe smiled. “I don’t want to let them down. I love them so much. I hear them chanting, and I want to go out there and make them proud, and do something.”

Rempe did give the Garden Faithful something to chant his name over by playing 10:01 impactful minutes in the Game 2 win, registering nine hits, one block, and a face-off win.

Since taking the NHL by storm, Rempe has been a polarizing figure outside of Broadway for his big hits and monstrous hits. It’s a shame, because he’s no different than other players in the League that do the same thing, he just does it bigger.

What everyone should be looking at is how pure his heart is, and how much he loves playing the game. He’s a big kid living a dream, with a huge fan smiling down upon him from heaven.

Everyone in New York is smiling with the Rempe’s too.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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