Rangers' Matt Rempe is in the spotlight again after his hit on Capitals' Trevor van Riemsdyk

WASHINGTON (AP) — Matt Rempe, the New York Rangers' 6-foot-8 rookie who took the NHL by storm in recent months as a fighter and fan favorite, is back in the spotlight at playoff time.

Rempe laid out Washington Capitals defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk with a big hit in Game 3 Friday night, one that drew a two-minute minor penalty but nothing more as far as on-ice retribution or off-ice punishment. The 21-year-old defended his actions Saturday, while debate swirled about whether the check that injured van Riemsdyk should have warranted something more from officials or the league office.

“My job’s to finish hits there,” Rempe said. "It was a quick play. I just went through the body. Obviously you never want anyone to get hurt, and that’s terrible that he’s hurt and I’m sorry to hear about that. But I think it was a clean hit. I was just trying to play hard, move my feet and be physical.”

Rempe avoided a second suspension in six weeks — he got four games for an illegal check to the head of New Jersey's Jonas Siegenthaler last month — because of his significant body contact and the feeling that it wasn't too late. Referee Frederick L'Ecuyer told Rempe it was a tad late, while Washington's Tom Wilson said it “seemed like a couple of steamboats late.”

Washington coach Spencer Carbery acknowledged it was at least borderline.

“It’s such a fine line because the game is so fast and the physicality is such an important part of the game of hockey in the NHL, but there is a line, right?” Carbery said. “I don’t know if there’s a set amount of time that they put on a stop clock of when a guy gets rid of a puck, and then it’s one one thousand, two one thousand and bang. Yeah, really close.”

The Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers on Sunday night can finish off a sweep of the Eastern Conference eighth-seeded Capitals, who won't have van Riemsdyk available to them because of the injury from the hit. Washington has already dug deep into its minor league depth on the blue line, missing three regulars on the back end: Nick Jensen, Rasmus Sandin and Ethan Bear.

Rempe, who scored in the series opener, will be available. If he remains in the lineup, it wouldn't be surprising if someone from the Capitals again tries to challenge him to drop the gloves, something he was unwilling to do Friday night.

Fighting five times in his first 17 games with New York, Rempe has shown a willingness to answer the bell in a sport known for its code and standing up for teammates, but the stakes are higher now with he and his teammates chasing the Stanley Cup.

“I think it’s a learning process for me with that because I’m trying to now pick my spots: time of game, momentum, are we up, what’s the series like, is that needed there," Rempe said. "It’s hard to say no sometimes, if that makes sense, to that. But it’s like, hey, I’m learning. It’s part of the job, as well. I’ve got to pick my spots. Our job as a team’s to win, and I’ve got to make sure that I do right by the team always.”


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