Matt Rempe #73 of the New York Rangers hits Eetu...

Matt Rempe #73 of the New York Rangers hits Eetu Luostarinen #27 of the Florida Panthers during the second period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden on Friday, May 24, 2024 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH — For most hockey players, the Florida Panthers are not a preferred opponent. They are big. They hit hard. They talk trash.

Matt Rempe is not most hockey players.

“It’s my favorite team to play against — by far,” he said on Thursday. “I love it.”

This was the morning prior to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden, and Rempe was as usual full of energy and colorful quotes.

Someone had asked him about the “challenge” of facing the Panthers given the edge with which they play, and he indicated he very much embraces that edge.

“So much energy against them,” he said. “Even if it’s going to be a while before my shift I can be on the bench and I can just be chirping something and they’re giving it right back to me, so it keeps you into the game. There’s lots of competitors on that side. That’s what I like. I like guys who are going to go back and forth. Chirps, little scrums. That’s what I like. I love it. “

It is that attitude that has made Rempe a fan favorite, a fourth-line rookie whose personality is as big as his 6-8 frame.

But something beyond that has been going on lately, particularly in the Rangers’ Game 4 loss on Tuesday.

Little by little, the big guy seems to be adding elements to his game beyond hitting people.

On a night when the Rangers often were pinned in their defensive zone, there were occasions on which Rempe came close to either setting up or scoring a goal.

He ended up being credited with 6:17 of ice time and one shot on goal, but he was noticeable beyond just looking for people to squash into the boards.

If Rempe can add some legitimate skill, he could be a fourth-line fixture for years.

When I asked coach Peter Laviolette whether he has seen Rempe’s skills evolve recently, he said this:

“I have. I notice it in practice. I notice it in games. He’s still I think a young player that’s building that, working toward that. I think the more he plays, the more experience he gets, the more comfortable he’ll get.

“When I watch him out here from when I watched him at training camp, there’s a big jump, a significant jump, and I think that has to do with playing with a certain level, practicing at a certain speed.”

Rempe scored the Rangers’ first goal of these playoffs and since then has been in and out of the lineup (mostly in) with varying degrees of ice time.

He sat out Game 1 against the Panthers but has been in the lineup since. Game 5 of the conference final was to be his 11th out of 15 playoff games.

About his Game 4 performance, Rempe said, “I thought we were creating some offense. I want to bring more to my game. I want to obviously add more and more tools to the toolbox. I know it’s going to take time because I have a lot to work on.”

He said he wants to be a “more well-rounded player,” part of why he has worked on striking a balance between his physicality and not pushing that too far.

“I don’t want to take penalties; that’s the last thing I want to do,” he said. “So I try and be careful. Not ‘careful.’ That’s the wrong word. When I play I want to make sure my arms are tucked in. I think I’m getting better at that.”

Rempe was called for roughing in Game 3 when he whipped Sam Reinhart around with his arm and eventually into the glass. Reinhart scored on the ensuing power play.

“The Game 3 penalty, whatever, that was kind of weird,” Rempe said. “But other than that, it’s been going well.”

When Rempe plays at home, fans chant his name when he comes onto the ice. Rangers fans in Florida chanted his name before warmups even began.

“It’s kind of surreal hearing them chant and stuff,” he said. “It’s like a dream. It’s just so much fun. I feel like it gives you energy. You want to go out there and you want to blow someone up. You want to go do something. It’s fun. It’s awesome.”

Goals and assists would be even more awesome. They could be coming.

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