Matt Rempe #73 of the Rangers skates during the first...

Matt Rempe #73 of the Rangers skates during the first period against the Florida Panthers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden on Friday, May 24, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Matt Rempe, the rookie folk hero heretofore seldom used in third periods of tight games, heard Rangers coach Peter Laviolette call his name for a shift with two minutes remaining in regulation of a tied Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against the Panthers.

“Oh, man, Jiminy Crickets, let’s go,” Rempe said.

The 6-8 1⁄2 man-child of a bruiser also received one overtime shift as the Rangers evened the series with a 2-1 win on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Laviolette inserted Rempe, who had averaged only 6 minutes, 18 seconds in his first seven postseason games, at the expense of Kaapo Kakko, the second overall draft pick in 2019, who was a playoff healthy scratch for the first time since the deciding Game 6 of the 2022 conference finals against the victorious Lightning.

Rempe logged 10:06 in 17 shifts Friday, including five in the third period, only the second time in his career he’s played more than 10 minutes. In part, it was because fellow fourth-liner Jimmy Vesey exited with an upper-body injury at 12:06 of the second period.

“That was tough to see Jimmy go down,” Rempe said. “I thought maybe I’d get some more ice time. I wanted to make sure I was good. I had to make the most of it and I wanted to be effective and I didn’t want to let the team down.”

The sellout crowd started chanting Rempe’s name as soon as he took his first shift two minutes into the game. There were cheers when he replaced Barclay Goodrow — his other linemate, who scored the winner with a snipe at 14:01 of overtime — in the faceoff circle and won a defensive-zone draw against Kevin Stenlund late in the first period.

The Rangers improved to 21-3-1 in the regular season and playoffs with Rempe in the lineup.

“I felt really good in the game,” said Rempe, who was credited with a game-high nine hits. “I felt good with the puck. I felt good in the defensive zone. In overtime, I got an offensive-zone shift. I was pretty excited about that.”

Rempe has one goal and eight penalty minutes in the playoffs but dressed only once in the previous five games, logging 6:01 on May 13 in a 4-1 home loss in Game 5 of the Rangers’ six-game, second-round win over the Hurricanes.

But the Rangers were physically sluggish in their 3-0 loss to the Panthers in Game 1, and there’s no doubt that Rempe’s play is inspirational to both the home crowd and his teammates.

So out came Kakko, who had been a regular on Alex Wennberg’s third line but has only one goal and one assist in 11 postseason games (Wennberg has one assist in 12 games). Laviolette elevated Filip Chytil from that Game 1 trio to the top line while dropping Jack Roslovic to Wennberg’s right wing.

“I think we’ve been doing our job and getting chances and staying in the offensive zone,” Kakko said. “I’m not expecting our line to be the line who’s going to score the goals, [but] we need to score sometimes.”

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