Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) celebrates his game winning...

Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) celebrates his game winning power play goal against the New Jersey Devils with defenseman Adam Fox (23) during the third period at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. Credit: Brad Penner

Matt Rempe was Public Enemy No. 1 for the New Jersey Devils after he’d been ejected from each of the two games he’d played against them for illegal hits, the last an elbow to the head of defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler.

So when the puck dropped for the opening faceoff of Wednesday’s game between the Rangers and Devils at Madison Square Garden, Devils enforcer Kurtis MacDermid fought Rempe — and the other four Devils skaters on the ice fought the other four Rangers skaters, too.

When the fracas was over, all 10 skaters were given fighting majors, and eight of them were also given game misconducts.

After that, the teams still had 59 minutes and 58 seconds of hockey to play, and ultimately, the Rangers found a way to win the game, rallying with two goals in the third period to beat the Devils, 4-3, and complete a sweep of the four-game regular season series.

Kaapo Kakko’s goal at 5:32 of the third tied the score at 3, and Chris Kreider scored the winner on a power play with 4:57 remaining to lift the Rangers’ record to 51-21-4 on the season, good for 106 points.

They extended their lead to three points over the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins for first place overall in the league standings, and five points over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division standings.

All of which seemed to be a side story to what happened at the drop of the first puck, when all hell broke loose. Both teams started their fourth lines, with MacDermid and Rempe opposite each other on the opening faceoff. So it wasn’t a surprise that those two would drop the gloves and go.

But Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said he had no idea everybody else would end up fighting, too.

“No,’’ he said when asked if he expected the game to start with a brawl. “That was — our guys were reacting to what was happening out on the ice. I thought they did a fantastic job. All five of them.’’

While Rempe and MacDermid were fighting, Barclay Goodrow fought with the Devils’ Kevin Bahl, Jimmy Vesey went with Curtis Lazar, Jacob Trouba went with Chris Tierney, and K’Andre Miller pummeled John Marino. Vesey and Lazar, who were the first to start throwing punches, only got fighting majors. Everyone else got five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct.

That left both teams to play the entire game with just 10 forwards and four defensemen.

“As soon as it was over, Foxy Adam Fox] came over and said, ‘Both D got kicked out?’ And I said, ‘Yep. 30 minutes ice time for you],’ ’’ Laviolette said.

Fox, who ended up playing 29:29, seemed happy with how his teammates responded to the situation.

“Guys stood up for each other,’’ he said. “You know they wanted an answer for Rempe’s hit [on Siegenthaler] and other guys had to step up and back each other up, and that’s what they did.’’

Kakko, who said he also was surprised to see five fights at the opening faceoff, said it was reminiscent of the game in 2021 when the Rangers and Washington Capitals started the game off with five fights after the Caps’ Tom Wilson had body-slammed a helmetless Artemi Panarin to the ice during the COVID-19-shortened, 56-game season. That was the same day that Rangers president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton were fired, after the Rangers had complained to the league that Wilson was not suspended for his actions, but only fined $5,000.

“Kind of the same, I think,’’ Kakko said of the opening faceoff line brawl.

After the fights — Will Cuylle and the Devils’ Dawson Mercer fought later in the period — the Rangers took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission on goals by Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere. But Ondrej Palat, Brendan Smith and Nico Hischier scored three unanswered goals for the Devils in the second period, and the Rangers trailed 3-2 entering the third.

They tied it when Kakko picked up the loose puck after the Devils’ Luke Hughes broke his stick while trying to take a slap shot from the left point. Kakko raced up the middle into the Devils’ zone and fired a shot over the shoulder of Devils goalie Kaapo Kahkonen for his second goal in as many games and third in the last four games, to tie the score at 3.

Notes & quotes: D Erik Gustafsson, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a suspected concussion, led the Rangers in ice time with 29:42. Gustafsson had averaged 17:15 in ice time this season . . . Igor Shesterkin made 17 saves and improved to 33-16-2.

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