NHL

Rangers’ contentious Devils rivalry could get another Matt Rempe injection

The Rangers better be ready for a grudge match.

The Devils will certainly be coming with everything they’ve got.

The two foes will clash Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in their first meeting since their highly contentious March 11 battle.

Rangers center Matt Rempe exchanges words with Devils’ Kurtis MacDermid Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

“We gotta win. The division games are always, I think, a little bit more competitive,” Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette said after practice Tuesday. “There’s probably a little bit of, when you play inside your division more than you do anyone else, there’s probably a little bit more tension inside those games.”

The majority of the vitriol in that game, which the Rangers won 3–1, surrounded Matt Rempe.

The hulking rookie forward nailed Devils defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler with a high elbow, and Rempe was subsequently ejected from the game and slapped with a four-game suspension.

It also left Siegenthaler with a concussion.

Matt Rempe was ejected in the Rangers’ Feb. 22 tilt with the Devils. Bill Kostroun

There was already bad blood between Rempe and the Devils from their Feb. 22 clash, which the Rangers won 5-1, for Rempe’s hit on forward Nathan Bastian. That hit also prompted Rempe’s ejection.

Devils enforcer Kurtis MacDermid, in the March 11 meeting, tried to fight Rempe for the Feb. 22 hit on Bastian, but Rempe refused and later further fanned the flames when he waved to the Devils’ bench as he exited the ice after being ejected.

Bastian ripped Rempe after that March 11 game, saying he “lost a lot of respect” for Rempe and that Rempe “should answer the bell in some way and be a man about it.”

Matt Rempe received a match penalty for his hit on Nathan Bastian in February. Bill Kostroun

Rempe has sat the past three games, however, as Laviolette continues to rotate his lineup ahead of the playoffs.

But in a game that has the potential to turn into a slugfest, the Rangers certainly could use their heavyweight.

Rempe got the first reps on the fourth line with Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow during Tuesday’s practice, though Will Cuylle also rotated in with Rempe.

Laviolette didn’t tip his hand whether Rempe will play Wednesday.

Regardless, the Rangers know they’ll have to match the Devils’ energy, and emotion.

“Whenever you play a local team, a rivalry game, there’s gonna be some added fuel,” defenseman Adam Fox told The Post on Tuesday. “We still want points, we still wanna win games, and they’re desperate, too. They’re still looking to get into the playoffs. It’s always an intense game, especially this late in the year when points really matter for teams.”

The Rangers just failed a similar test against another desperate division rival in the Penguins during their lifeless, sloppy, 5-2 loss Monday.

The Rangers lacked any bite, emotion or physical presence in the loss, and were overrun as a result.

Now, they enter into a hyper-emotional battle, one that will likely be extremely physical.

It would make sense to return Rempe to the lineup for a game like that and to help restore the team’s snarl. But with or without him, the Rangers can’t have a repeat of Monday.

Rangers’ Matt Rempe, front right, waves as the Devils’ Kurtis
MacDermid yells at him. AP

“I wish we were a little bit better [Monday] night,” Laviolette said. “We had a division game against Pittsburgh, the two points got away from us. It wasn’t our best. We worked today to try to fix that to make it better. Can’t do anything about it now, we didn’t get those points. We’ll try to fix it [Wednesday], control tomorrow, there’s two points at stake.”

Four of the Rangers’ remaining seven regular-season games will come against divisional rivals in the Devils, Islanders (twice) and Flyers.

And all three of those teams are in similar positions to the Penguins, desperately trying to cling to postseason hope.

Those kinds of challenges are exactly what the Rangers need at this stage of the season.

“When [Laviolette] talks to us about our habits, it’s not necessarily for game 75, 76, it’s for Game 1 of the playoffs,” Fox said. “All these games coming up are playoff games for [opponents], they’re looking to get in. I think if we match that intensity, it’ll be good for us to gear up for that. You don’t want to coast through seven games then be like Game 1, time to play the right way, so I think it’s important for us to get in that mindset now.” 

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