New York Rangers' Matt Rempe in Game 1 of a...

New York Rangers' Matt Rempe in Game 1 of a first-round playoff series against the Capitals last month. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

GREENBURGH – On cue, the Rangers’ somnambulant performance on Wednesday night got emotional fans and emotive media mebers talking about you-know-who.

Yup. Matt Rempe.

Inserting him would be a bold move for coach Peter Laviolette, and perhaps a reckless one, if you listen to most of the hockey cognoscenti.

If only there were someone in position to validate the idea who has as much credibility as anyone alive outside the organization.

Thinking, thinking, thinking . . .

Got it!

“They’ve got to get themselves more emotional,” ESPN analyst Mark Messier said during the second intermission of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, won by the Panthers, 3-0. “Maybe they should think about having Rempe in the lineup.

“I’m not questioning the coach, but I am saying he does get in on the forecheck. He does ground and pound. He does get the crowd involved, and the players seem to follow that kind of mindset.

“But right now, they’re playing, in my opinion, a little too careful.”

At that point, the Rangers were down, 1-0, and they did have their chances to steal a game the Panthers deserved to win.

But Messier saw what the rest of us saw, which was not enough energy.

Laviolette does not answer lineup questions during the playoffs, and he was not about to do so on Thursday during the series’ first off-day.

But he did say two interesting things that might make the Rempe idea plausible.

They both related to a play in the waning seconds on which Niko Mikkola of Florida hammered Filip Chytil into the boards in Chytil’s second game back from a monthslong absence because of a presumed concussion.

Laviolette was asked on Thursday about the Rangers’ lack of response to that incident and about the health of Chytil.

As to the first, he said both teams got in plenty of hits and that the Rangers want to stay within the game, but: “Would I like a little bit more physicality? Sure.”

As for Chytil’s status, all the coach would say was, “With regard to our lineup, we don’t have anything to report at this point.”

That sounded like a door opening a crack.

If Chytil is hurt and Laviolette wants more physicality, both the lineup opening and the specific need could be filled by Rempe, a 6-8 fan favorite and unguided hockey missile.

What are the other options? Jonny Brodzinski? Blake Wheeler?

To be clear, there are good hockey reasons not to do this, even if Chytil is out.

Rempe is not as skilled or versatile as most – or all – of his teammates, and the coach has made it clear he does not have much trust in him in key spots. In Game 2 against the Hurricanes, Rempe played four of 87 minutes in a double-overtime victory.

But even in the absence of Rempe on Wednesday, other players saw limited time. Chytil played 9:17, Will Cuylle 7:45.

If they can play that little, why not Rempe for five or six minutes to ignite both the Madison Square Garden crowd and his teammates?

And this is not some random nobody Laviolette would be pulling out of thin air. He has played in seven playoff games, in which the Rangers are 6-1, including all four in the first round and all three home games in the second.

There is no need for panic from the Rangers. It was one game. But it confirmed why the Panthers are the betting favorite in the series.

They have the talent to play any style but the discipline to play one in which they forechecked the Rangers to distraction and shut them out for the first time since Dec. 9.

Laviolette said the loss does not require major strategic adjustments but rather better execution. That starts with better breakouts.

Defenseman K’Andre Miller said on Thursday, “When teams are coming that hard and pressuring you with that type of energy, breaking down their forecheck with talking and puck-moving and just trying to be a little bit more firm, our execution can be a little bit better coming out of the D-zone.”

All of that is true and is the kind of hockey Xs-and-Os the Rangers needed to spend their off-day discussing.

The rest of us were within our rights to spend the day discussing something more intangible that was missing. Was it Rempe? Might be worth a try.


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