Skip to Content

Matt Rempe Came Up Big

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 21: Matt Rempe #73 of the New York Rangers celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 21, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Matt Rempe has a gravitational pull. I'm not just being writerly trying to say he's very large, though he is that. I mean that in his young NHL career, games have proven to have a way of bending around him. Your eyes are drawn to him; the puck finds him, or he finds the puck-carrier; whistles find him, too. Opposing tough guys see a target on his back. The rookie's bruising, high-energy game has made him alternately a liability and a folk hero in New York. "I think any game he's in the lineup, he's had an effect on the game," linemate Jimmy Vesey said. And if the Rangers don't always know if they're going to get Good Rempe or Bad Rempe on a given night, they're not going to get anonymity.

Rempe played a game-low 8:33 in Sunday's 4-1 Game 1 win over the Capitals, and he made the most of that limited ice time, racking up an early penalty, scoring a goal, and playing a big role in another. It mightn't come as a surprise that Rempe's fourth line had a lot to do in this one, because the Caps tried their hardest to make this a fourth-line kind of game: stuffy, disjointed, close-quarters. Ugly hockey is probably the only way Washington stays close in this series against a team that's "more skilled" and "more talented" and "better at hockey" than they are. If the puck is moving and the Rangers are flying around, the Caps are in trouble. If the game looks like everyone's skating through a bog, Washington can hope to steal some low-event, one-goal games like they did to make the postseason in the first place.

The first period, then, went the Caps' way: six penalties handed out, and just three total shots at 5-on-5. Rempe heard the first whistle on his first shift, getting called for charging that looked like it was partially a reputation call, or at least the 6-foot-7 tax.

Things changed in the second—a little more end-to-end action, the Rangers getting to show off their speed and puck movement. Rempe led a rush that featured some nifty passing from Vesey and Barclay Goodrow, and got himself unmolested in front for the game's first goal.

Not flashy. But Rempe is a better skater (and a worse fighter) than he's gotten credit for so far, and defenses need to put a body on him not just to dislodge him from screening a goalie but because he can finish. Even so he said he didn't really process that he had scored until he heard the crowd. Among that crowd: his mother Janice, watching the 21-year-old play at MSG for the first time. "It was really special for her to be there," Rempe said. "I love her so much. I'm her biggest fan." What a nice boy.

Rempe was again in the middle of New York's third goal in a 2:06 span, setting a pick on Beck Malenstyn off a faceoff that cleared a shooting lane for Vesey. The Capitals complained, but replays showed Rempe had gotten inside fair and square.

This game was, on the whole, Good Rempe, and it looked a lot like how the Capitals gave the Rangers fits in postseasons past, with Rempe playing the Tom Wilson role, causing general havoc and forcing opponents to devote energy and brain-space to him. (Don't worry, Wilson was still doing Tom Wilson things: a pair of borderline hits and a late scuffle and game misconduct.)

If the early storyline in this series becomes Rempe vs. the Caps, all to the better for the Rangers, who will be overjoyed to have their actual scorers quietly undress a shoddy defense, as Panarin and Kreider did on this game's other two goals. As a general rule, if a team is overly concerned about its opponent's fourth line, things are going badly for that team. And Rempe's content contributing both on the scoresheet, as in this one, or otherwise, because this time of year, a team needs both. "I think I’m built for the playoffs," he said.

Already a user?Log in

Welcome to Defector!

Sign up to read another couple free blogs.

Or, click here to subscribe!

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter