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Matt Rempe scores in play-off debut as Rangers win Game 1

NEW YORK – New York Rangers rookie forward Matt Rempe said “shock” was the first emotion he felt after scoring the opening goal in their playoff series against the Washington Capitals on Sunday.

“I thought, ‘oh my God.’ It didn’t really happen, and then you hear the crowd. It was a dream come true,” he said after Rangers’ 4-1 win to take a 1-0 lead in the first round. . play-off series.

Rempe’s goal at 4:17 of the second period sparked the Rangers’ charge, as they built a 3–0 lead in the span of 2:06 after he scored. But the entire game only added to the cult hero status of the 6-foot-2 rookie, whose energetic fighting and big hits endeared him to Rangers fans who loudly chanted his name in Game 1.

“I love them. They were singing all night and I love them so much,” Rempe said. “I can’t thank them enough.”

One of those fans was his mother, Janice, who saw her son play for the first time at Madison Square Garden.

“It was very special for her to be there,” he said. “I love her so much. I’m her biggest fan. We went out to dinner last night and walked around. She’d never really been to New York before so we just walked around. I bet she was pretty emotional today, So it was really cool.”

Rempe grabbed his first playoff shift 50 seconds into Game 1, leading to a “REM-PE!” chants from the sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd. Just over a minute later, Rempe was in the penalty box after being called for a charge against the Capitals’ Beck Malenstyn. As they would do during Game 1, the Capitals failed to score on the man advantage, going 0-for-4.

Rempe spent just 26 more seconds on the ice than in the penalty box during the first period, a ratio familiar to Rangers fans who watched his rookie season.

But in the second period, Rempe made a game-changing play. Not with his physicality, but with his offense.

Rempe carried the puck into the attacking zone, circled behind the net and then tucked a pass from teammate Jimmy Vesey into the Capitals’ net at 4:17 for his first playoff goal and a 1–0 lead for the Rangers.

“I think every game he’s been in the lineup, he’s had an effect on the game. He shows up every night for the team and it’s great to see him score that goal,” Vesey said. “Obviously it was a big goal in the game, but the look on his face was pretty cool too.”

That goal shifted the momentum emphatically to the Rangers, who would build a 3-0 lead over the next 2:06 in the second period on goals from Artemi Panarin and Vesey, in a move that had another Rempe moment.

After Barclay Goodrow won the faceoff, Rempe collided with Malenstyn, knocking him to the ice in the slot. That helped clear the way for Vesey to beat goalkeeper Charlie Lindgren with a long-range shot that was deflected. Capitals defenseman John Carlson protested to the officials about the play. Replays appeared to show Malenstyn skating into Rempe after the faceoff.

“You expect a (faceoff) loss, so you try to bounce through it. And if (Goodrow) wins it back, I want to get a pick. I don’t really know what happened. Next thing you know, Jimmy scored , so I was just happy that Jim scored,” he said.

Rempe finished the night with a goal, a plus-2 rating, two penalty minutes and two shots on goal in 8:33 of ice time. When the Capitals tried to get physical with him, he would smile and skate away.

It’s been a learning experience for Rempe, from making his NHL debut in the Rangers MetLife Stadium Series win over the Islanders on Feb. 18 to earning a spot in the lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs. After five fights in his first six NHL games and a four-game suspension in March for jostling New Jersey defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler, Rempe had just one fight in his last seven regular-season games.

After Game 1, Rempe said he was proud of making an impact in the postseason for the Rangers.

“I know my game. I know I can skate well and be physical. I think I can be a real pain in the ass playing low, protecting the pucks and getting to the net,” he said. “I think I’m built for the playoffs. I think that’s where you want to play and I was happy with how tonight went.”

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said he couldn’t remember another first-year player like Rempe in his 22 seasons behind the bench in the NHL.

“I can’t think of a player who has come in and had such an impact on a team, on a fan base and on the city,” he said. “When you look at him, he’s just smiling. He’s just happy. He loves being here, loves playing the game. He’s been great.”

Game 2 is Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

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