Rangers' Matt Remby relishes the villain role as the rookie's prolific success takes the spotlight

WASHINGTON — People are mad at Matt Rempe again. Some are tired of the 21-year-old still in the infancy stage of what he hopes will be a long NHL career.

Not Rangers fans, of course.

They turned out in droves to support the young striker and are thoroughly entertained and fascinated by the powerful 6-foot-9 giant (on skates) who says he is boldly trying to straddle the line between an effective bruiser and a fearsome one who wouldn't take stupid penalties that would hurt a Cup contender. Stanley, that's one victory from advancing in the playoffs.

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette is happy with his growth and effectiveness.

“He did it on the ice with his game. He did it with his physicality. He did it by fighting when he had to,” Laviolette said Saturday. “We're just trying to manage it and make sure he understands his importance when he's on the ice.”

Two or three weeks ago, Remby might have welcomed Tom Wilson's fight in the second period of Friday's 3-1 win over the Capitals. Wilson wanted a piece of Rempe in exchange for his late check, in the opinion of the Cubs, who knocked defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk out of the final 48 minutes of Game 3 and, at the very least, all of Game 4.

But with Rangers leading 2-0 at that stage and only one goal up at the break, Remby wasn't about to answer his first-period check which hurt Van Riemsdyk and allowed Wilson the chance to spark a sell-out. The Capital One arena could potentially provide a spark for a Capitals team that is desperately looking for something right now.

“It's a learning process for me because now I'm trying to pick my spots: time of the game, momentum, are we ahead, what does the series look like, is that needed there, or that kind of thing,” Remby said afterwards. Rangers' highly optional practice on Saturday. “Obviously it's hard to say no sometimes, if that makes sense. But it's like I'm learning. It's part of the job too. I have to pick my spots. Our job as a team is to win, and I have to make sure I'm always doing what's right by the team.” .

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The Caps were clearly unhappy with a check on Rempe in the first period that resulted in a minor tackle but no further discipline from the NHL's player safety department.

The league considered two criteria for a potential suspension: the first was a head check and the second was interference.

Regarding the head check, the league felt that Remby's hit was a full-body check with unavoidable head contact. Regarding the interference, the league determined that the check fell within the time window allowed for the player to finish the check after the puck expired. The league doesn't announce that time, but take it from someone who has monitored the player safety department at least six times over the years, anything less than 0.6 seconds is not considered late in terms of a suspension.

“I'm sick and tired of defensemen losing to clean hits, that's for sure,” veteran John Carlson said. “It's frustrating for guys to get injured, and it's legal.”

Remby, who was suspended for four matches last month for a head check, did not feel the check merited even a penalty. He said the referees told him it was too late, so the intervention was minimal.

On Saturday, Rempe dissected the hit.

“I'll go in on the front check,” he said. “I'm going to go in there, and my job is to finish there and be tough on the forecheck. I thought it was a clean hit. It was a quick play. It just went through the body. Obviously you never want anyone to get hurt, and it's horrible for them to get hurt.” And I'm sorry to hear that but I think it was a clean hit and I was just trying to play hard and move my feet and be physical.

Caps fans don't see it that way, and the Caps certainly don't. They've already been decimated on the blue line with injuries to Nick Jensen and Rasmus Sandin and only one defenseman – Chase Briskey – is under contract with the entire organization. At least as of late Saturday, he had not been called, so this could be a sign that either Jensen or Sandin will find a way to play in Game 4.

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Remby stayed off social media after Friday's game, instead returning to the team hotel in Georgetown and getting kicked by Chris Kreider in several “halo” games in the players' lounge.

But he doesn't care one iota about the recent hate he's receiving from non-Rangers hockey fans or the harsh criticism he's receiving from hockey columnists.

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“I feel like I'm playing my game,” Rempe said. “If it's about more attention, I don't have a problem with that if there's good media, bad media, or whatever. I don't care what anyone says whether it's bad or whatever, it is what it is. “I'm just trying to go and play my game. If I'm efficient and hit big, clean hits and big hits, people and other teams won't like it but I've got to make sure it's clean.”

Rempe says he's spent a lot of time studying his successes on video, especially since he was suspended after elbowing Devils defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler on March 11.

“I always try to see because the important thing for me is that I have to keep everything compact,” Rempe said. “That's what I'm always looking for: I think not having elbows is something I have to make sure of. I'm so big that once I commit to the shot, I have to make sure everything is tucked in and if guys jump out of the way I have to make sure, hey, I can't Holding on to anything coming out as a reactionary thing I just have to miss the hit I just have to pull out of it.

“So when I look at that hit (against van Riemsdyk), it's like I went through my body. I thought it was all tucked in. It was all clean and compact. It went through the body. Just a big hit. I just caught him clean from The things.

But Rempe says it's perfectly fine to be portrayed as a villain by going against the rules and the fandom.

Rangers captain Jacob Trouba, a power hitter who often straddles that fine line of clean versus dirty, is no stranger to this role.

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“I'm sure teams don't like him. I probably wouldn't like him either if I was playing against him,” Trouba said. “I think the energy he brought not just to the team — to the buildings, to MSG, to the fan base — there's a lot of narrative there, but he Just a big kid who enjoys playing hockey. That's what we see in the locker room, the smiles.

“I think you see that a little bit in interviews. Just his attitude, how grateful he is to be in this position and playing hockey, his story, everything about who he is, I think we have a lot of respect for him in our room. He's been a big part of our team, a big part of the momentum,” he said. And a lot of the attitude and energy around Rangers lately is a lot to take for someone like him, but I think he's done a great job of it playing hard. He's the guy I would take on my team any day of the week that.

Remby knows he will once again be a focal point during Game 4 on Sunday night. But he says his only goal is to play hard, play fair and not hurt his team's chances of winning.

Laviolette feels completely comfortable playing with him and believes Remby will once again play an important role in Rangers' victory.

“There are a lot of conversations that happen with Matt,” Laviolette said. “He's a great boy, a young man, a great player, a young man at the beginning of his career. Just constantly talking to him and staying with him and communicating with him, I think he can continue to improve.

“If you watch him from when he first got here even when he plays now, even when he practices now, it's completely different. He's elevating his game on the ice and so we need him on the ice as well for his game, his size, his athleticism and his speed.”

“There's a lot of things he brings to the table, so we need to make sure he's on the ice.”

(Top photo of TJ Oshie colliding with Matt Rempe during Game 3: Tom Brenner/AP Photo)

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