Matt Rempe of the Rangers checks Tony DeAngelo of the...

Matt Rempe of the Rangers checks Tony DeAngelo of the Hurricanes in Game 1 of their NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs second-round series at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

The NHL has not quite figured out what to make of Matt Rempe, the Rangers’ 6-8, havoc-wreaking rookie.

That seems to go for referees, too, which puts the Rangers and Rempe himself in a difficult spot.

Game 1 of the Rangers’ second-round playoff series against the Hurricanes on Sunday brought the latest example.

Rempe was penalized in the first period of the Rangers’ 4-3 victory for interfering with Carolina goaltender Frederik Andersen even though it appeared that Rempe had been pushed into Andersen by the Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal.

The Rangers killed off the penalty, but they were furious.

Rempe ended up playing 4:09 in the first period and only 7:06 for the game, after which one had to wonder whether coach Peter Laviolette would stick with him in the lineup against the speedy Hurricanes. But sure enough, he was back out there for Game 2’s 4-3 victory thanks to Vincent Trocheck’s goal at 7:24 of the second overtime on Tuesday night.

Anyway, back to the refereeing . . .

The Rangers did not make Rempe available to reporters before Game 2 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, but Laviolette addressed the situation after being asked whether he thinks Rempe is treated fairly by officials.

“The game happens quick out there,” he said, a nod to the referees’ difficult job. “I think he's a guy that gets eyes on him, for sure. Just the size of him and the way he's played the game.

“I’ve mentioned I can't think of a guy who's had such a big impact in his introduction into the National Hockey League.

“There was a lot that was surrounding his presence and I think that the eyes get drawn to him . . . I've said this before, even the time where it did cross the line, we go back and we teach him about the game. We teach him about hitting or when to fight or when not to fight. We talk to him about that. We talk to him about systems.

“He's a young player. He's done a really good job for us inside of that. And so I do think that the eyes are on him just because of his size a little bit. But I know that the game happens pretty fast, too, and decisions are made really quick out there.”

Laviolette was right about Rempe’s sudden impact on the league. He even came up on Tuesday when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly took questions at an Associated Press Sports Editors event in Manhattan.

“First and foremost, he can play the game, which is not like it was for some players in older days,” Bettman said. “I don't think players can make it anymore just because they can be physical and fight.

“You have to be able to play the game to be on a roster and get ice time.”

Said Daly: “Obviously in his first 10 days in the NHL he had to answer the bell a couple of times. But he's kind of out of that phase now. He's a presence on the ice every time he's out there, and he's still learning."

Rempe has become a fan favorite and has shown some skills in addition to his wrecking-ball style. He scored a goal in Game 1 against the Capitals, in which he played 8:33, his most minutes in the first five playoff games.

He had four minor penalties in those five games.

It is too soon to tell where Rempe’s career is headed. He is only 21.

But after beginning his career with a fight against the Islanders’ Matt Martin at MetLife Stadium in February, he has become a source of fascination around the league. He certainly is not your run-of-the-mill NHL player.

Asked before Game 2 whether he thinks Rempe is treated fairly, captain Jacob Trouba hesitated, then said, “I’m not getting into officiating comments, for sure. But yeah, he's shown that he's a big, physical presence on the ice.”

Then Trouba hesitated again.

“I’ve got to be selective of my words,” he said. “When he's playing, he shouldn't change how he plays. I think the way he plays, the energy he brings, the enthusiasm, the intensity, that's what makes his game so impactful, I think, for our group and frustrating and probably not the greatest to play against.

“So when he's on the ice, I think he's just got to continue to play his game and I think that's what's best for our group.”

Trouba plays a rugged style himself and has been in the league 11 years. Does he offer Rempe advice on dealing with playing his game while being under the refs’ microscope?

“No, I haven't mentioned it,” Trouba said. “He shouldn’t be under a microscope, I don't think. He's playing under the same set of rules as every other player on the ice.

“I think he knows how to manage that and play his game within the rules. So I would say that's not something I'm actively talking to him about. I think he understands that.”

But do the referees understand him?

With Hank Winnicki


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