Rangers make points with their fists and play in win over Devils

This was a blast from the past of the Battle of the Hudson, but all the standing up the Rangers did for one another in the first two seconds of Wednesday’s installment at the Garden wouldn’t have been worth more than the veritable bucket of warm, uh, saliva if the Blueshirts had not won the game.

Because the Rangers are hunting for points to nail down first place in the NHL, in the Eastern Conference and in the Metro Division without a need to prove their manhood. That’s apparently what the also-ran Devils thought their night was about in the wake of Matt Rempe having concussed two teammates in two games without having to drop the gloves.

Head coach Peter Laviolette obliged New Jersey by reinserting Rempe into the lineup after three consecutive healthy scratches. Devils’ interim head coach Travis Green started his fourth line that included avenger Kurtis MacDermid, who lined up across from Rempe. The two exchanged words at the circle, referee Gord Dwyer skated to chat with the gentlemen and then dropped the puck.

While Rempe and MacDermid dropped their gloves and began to circle, New Jersey’s Curtis Lazar jumped Jimmy Vesey, and a line brawl was on at 0:02, just the way there was a line brawl between these teams at the Garden at the drop of the puck at the Garden on March 19, 2012.

That was different, though. Those three fights had broken out simultaneously. On Wednesday, Rempe-MacDermid didn’t begin until after Vesey and Lazar were fighting. Every Devil picked a sparring partner. Every other fight followed. As such, they were all ruled secondary fights. Each participant thus was assessed a game misconduct. (Rempe, it should be noted, did just fine in the bout that lasted almost 60 seconds.)

Each team would be down to 10 forwards and four defensemen for the remaining 59:58. Only the Rangers lost their matchup defense pair of Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller. Chances are that if Laviolette had expected this losers’ response to Rempe — my words, not the coach’s — he would not have started that pair.

Matt Rempe drops the gloves and fights Kurtis MacDermid just seconds into the Rangers’ 4-3 win over the Devils. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

That is likely why Laviolette was incensed enough to storm down the bench and direct angry words at Green, just as John Tortorella had done with Peter DeBoer 12 years ago. When asked about it, Laviolette said something about “emotion” before wanting to know if his answer was “vague enough?”

The Rangers did stand up for themselves. They earned pats on the back for the trouble. But more important were the two points they earned by overcoming a 3-2 deficit at the end of the second to score twice in the third for a 4-3 victory that increased the club’s Metro lead to five points over the ’Canes and the eastern lead to three points over the Bruins.

They had let a 2-0 first period lead get away by allowing three goals on six shots within 9:13 of the second period. They seemed flat. They seemed in danger of losing their second home game in three days to teams out of the playoffs following Monday’s defeat to Pittsburgh. A drop to second place might bring a first-round meeting with Tampa Bay. That’s really not what anyone wants.

So the Blueshirts’ 14 buckled down and got to work. Kaapo Kakko, who still somehow had played only 8:00 through the second period despite the short bench, tied it with a left-wing drive at 5:32 before Chris Kreider — a goat on New Jersey’s third goal — scored on a power-play deflection at 15:03 for the lead and the victory.

Rangers and Devils get into multiple fights right after the puck drops in the beginning of the Blueshirts’ win over their rivals. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

“We didn’t go out to make a mockery of the game,” Adam Fox, who took the shot on which Kreider scored, said after getting 29:39 of ice. “Guys stood up for another, you knew that they wanted an answer for the hit and Remp said that and other guys had to step up and back up each other and that’s what they did.”

The Rangers’ last line brawl came on May 5, 2021 against the Caps, also at the Garden, two days after Tom Wilson throttled Artemi Panarin. Laviolette was on the other bench that time. But that game turned into a 60-minute street fight. This one calmed down immediately after the brawl and became a hockey game.

The Battle of the Hudson is replete with extracurriculars. There was the time that Scott Niedermayer used his skate to kick Valeri Kamensky’s jersey after it had come off in a fight with New Jersey’s Hall of Fame defenseman during an exhibition game at the Garden before the 1999-2000 season.

Scott Niedermayer used his skate to kick Valeri Kamensky’s jersey after it had come off in a fight during an exhibition game at the Garden before the 1999-2000 season. Getty Images

That was a year or two before Scott Stevens made an “L” sign with his fingers above his head in the penalty box at the Meadowlands that was directed at Theo Fleury after an altercation with the Rangers’ winger.

And the line brawl between the Devils and Rangers in 2012 climaxed a six-game season series that featured fights within the opening three seconds of three of those contests. This was not that. This was a New Jersey team that has soiled the sheets this season seeking some sort of payback for … Rempe?

Clips of the brawl no doubt will go viral. This will be one of the tales of the Battle of the Hudson that will be told forever. Few will remember the outcome even though that was the most important thing.

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