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Malice at the Palace? A Closer Look at the Rangers and Devils Line Brawl

A deep dive into the Rangers and Devils line brawl. What caused this massive fight? Who were the winners and losers?

The NHL has officially had its very own version of Malice at the Palace, with seemingly everyone but the goalies getting involved in the action. Though the April 3rd game was a highly anticipated matchup between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, long-time Hudson River rivals; no one expected it to devolve into a full-on 5-on-5 brawl. Right from the opening faceoff, every single skater on the ice dropped gloves and began fighting the nearest opponent they could find. The game turned to pandemonium in just the first two seconds of regulation, with the ice littered with gloves and sticks as four officials struggled to get a handle on five simultaneous fights. Many of us watching at home thought to ourselves, “Now THIS is hockey.”

The players probably assumed they would each receive a five-minute major for fighting, but soon found out about a different NHL rule that would come into play: “A game misconduct penalty shall be imposed on any player who is assessed a major penalty for fighting after the original altercation.” It was determined that the first pair to initiate the fighting were Jimmy Vesey and Curtis Lazar, who were each assessed five-minute majors. To their surprise, the remaining eight players were ejected from the game entirely for engaging in secondary fights. These players included four from each team: from the Devils, Kurtis MacDermid, Kevin Bahl, John Marino, and Chris Tierney; and from the Rangers, Matt Rempe, Barclay Goodrow, K’Andre Miller, and Captain Jacob Trouba.

Unexpected Adjustments

This unexpected shift in the lineup presented an interesting challenge for both teams and their coaches in staffing the remainder of the game. Both teams were left with four fewer players available on the bench, leading to increased strains on any holes in the lineup each team was already juggling by this point in the season. This especially placed an undue burden on each team’s defensemen, as both clubs had their entire second defensive pairing ejected from the game. “Especially when you have four defensemen, you’ve got guys who haven’t killed penalties before trying to kill penalties,” said New Jersey interim coach Travis Green. The results for both teams could have been drastic as the Devils are still battling for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference while the Rangers, having already clinched, should be resting up and avoiding injury risk as much as possible if they hope to make a deep run.

Rangers head coach Frank Laviolette joked with the press that “as soon as it was over, [Adam Fox] came back and said, ‘Both D get kicked out?’ I said, “Yep, 30 minutes,” referring to the amount of ice time Fox would have to play to make up for the loss of his fellow defensemen. This turned out to be a pretty accurate guess on Laviolette’s part. Adam Fox, a stalwart for the Rangers who has carried an average time on ice of 23:21 this season, clocked in at 29:39, just under 30 minutes. The Rangers also relied heavily on Erik Gustafsson, who led the team in time on ice at 29:42. This was Gustafsson’s first game back in the lineup after missing the previous four games with an upper-body injury.

A New Rivalry Brewing: MacDermid vs. Rempe

So what could have caused such a wild brawl to break out with no immediately visible cause? The two teams have a historic rivalry dating back to the 80s, but that rivalry has been reignited more than ever in 2024. The protagonists are Matt Rempe and Curtis MacDermid, who have clashed every time they’ve met since Rempe was first called up from the AHL in February.

Matt Rempe elbow hit on Jonas Siegenthaler, March 11th 2024.

Rempe first faced the Devils on Feb. 22nd, where he was ejected for laying a huge hit on Nathan Bastian that sent the bloodied Devils forward back to the locker room. Jonas Siegenthaler immediately challenged Rempe in retaliation, but the 6’8 heavyweight took Siegenthaler down in just two punches. At the teams’ next matchup on March 11th, MacDermid sought retribution and repeatedly attempted to bait Rempe into a fight. Rempe, who was already sporting two black eyes by this point, had been advised by coaching staff to avoid further unnecessary fighting and declined MacDermid’s advances. However, Rempe was later ejected from the game for an illegal and dangerous elbow hit on Siegenthaler. MacDermid understandably became livid and was spoiling for a fight, but it was not possible at the time as a referee was already holding both players. Appearing to fan the flames further, Rempe tauntingly waved at MacDermid as he was escorted off the ice. 

Given the context, it’s not hard to understand why MacDermid was out for blood going into the Rangers game on April 3rd. He’s a career enforcer with a chance to make some waves in the league by taking on the new kid on the block. This is the exact same reason why veteran heavyweights around the league, including Nicolas Deslauriers and Ryan Reaves, have scrambled for a chance to challenge the young rookie. This rivalry has also come at an opportune time for MacDermid, who the Devils recently acquired from the Colorado Avalanche on March 1st. As a result of this conflict, MacDermid has been able to make headlines around the league while also showcasing his skills and value to Devils management.

So Which Spartan Won?

The legendary fight between MacDermid and Rempe lasted nearly a minute and a half, much longer than the other fights around them. By the time they were done, Rempe was covered in blood and both players were visibly too exhausted to continue. Both players got some good hits in, but MacDermid got more and better hits on Rempe than he took. Per the eye test, the fight was a clear win for MacDermid, and arguably the first clear loss for Rempe. It seems MacDermid has finally gotten his retribution.

Future of the Rivalry

Following the 5-on-5 brawl, MacDermid seems to have softened his stance on Rempe. In a postgame interview, he appeared to backtrack from previous negative comments he made to the media regarding Rempe. This indicates he may be satisfied enough with the results of the brawl to squash this beef, at least for the time being. 

After the March 11th game, MacDermid had initially told reporters:

“After a hit like that [on Bastian], it kind of goes without saying you should answer the bell in some way and be a man about it. Then the game goes on and he throws another hit like that [on Siegenthaler] and gets kicked out. There’s a right way to go about things and a wrong way. I kind of lost a lot of respect for [Rempe] tonight.”

MacDermid continued, saying he understood why the refs kept him away from Rempe, but he wished he could have “taught him a lesson” right then and there.

Following the April 3rd brawl, however, MacDermid seemed to change his tune: “I’m always going to have a lot of respect for [Rempe], he’s a young kid just trying to do his thing to stay in the league and I understand that. He’s going to learn and he’s a big, tough, strong kid.”

Rempe MacDermid Rangers Devils

Despite his cheeky behavior on the ice, Rempe has only ever had positive things to say about MacDermid. Per Vince Mercogliano, Rempe called MacDermid “the biggest and strongest” opponent he’s faced yet. “He’s a real tough customer. That guy is a big boy. Strong, has been one of the toughest guys in the league for a long time, and he has his job to do. You gotta respect that.”

Rempe has also publicly apologized for the dirty hit on Siegenthaler. According to Rempe, “it was an accident. I thought I was going to hit the wall… Never want to see a guy get hurt or anything like that… Obviously, watching back, I did [elbow Siegenthaler]. I made a mistake… That was unfortunate. I’m sorry about that.”

Who Won the Other Fights?

No one batted an eye at the sight of MacDermid and Rempe dropping gloves, but what did take the world by surprise was the spontaneous dropping of gloves by every single other skater on the ice. Let’s break down what actually happened in each of these fights.

Miller vs. Marino

One of the most thrilling surprises of the brawl was the knockout fight between K’Andre Miller and John Marino. Simply put, Miller wiped the floor with Marino and it was not close. Standing at 6’1, 181 pounds, Marino was mismatched against the 6’5, 210-pound K’Andre Miller. Miller dominated, even chirping Marino with a hand gesture calling him a “little man”. The only area they were properly matched in was fighting experience, as this was K’Andre’s first career NHL fight and Marino’s second.

This was not a planned matchup by any means. While both coaches had assigned their heavyweights to the starting lineup in anticipation of Rempe vs. MacDermid, neither one had a clue that every other player on the ice would get involved. Devils interim head coach Travis Green later told the media “I don’t think you would have saw Johnny Marino on the ice if we were anticipating a five-on-five.”

Vesey vs. Lazar

Jimmy Vesey and Curtis Lazar were the first pair to start fighting as well as the first to finish. Because of this, they were the only two participants who were not ejected from the game. During their scrap, which lasted about 20 seconds total, Lazar got a few early hits on Vesey causing him to lose his helmet. Vesey was then able to wrestle Lazar down onto the logo, where they were quickly broken up by the ref.

Lazar getting those early hits in was key, as it cost Vesey his helmet and put him in a more vulnerable position. However, Vesey was ultimately able to knock Lazar off his balance causing his knees to buckle and fall to the ground. While Lazar’s hits on Vesey were greater in number and more effective than the ones he received in return, Vesey ultimately won this short-lived battle as he was able to gain control of the fight and tackle Lazar to the ground.

Goodrow vs. Bahl

After losing the meaningless faceoff to Chris Tierney, Barclay Goodrow appeared to literally skate around Tierney to instead confront Kevin Bahl, who was right behind Tierney. It’s unclear whether this was a fluke or an intentional effort by Goodrow to seek out Bahl and/or avoid Tierney. It’s possible Goodrow had some lingering emotions from his last confrontation with Bahl almost a year ago, in which both players dropped the gloves and went at it during the first round of the playoffs on April 27th, 2023. This is just speculation, but it would help to explain Goodrow’s seemingly odd behavior.

Their scrap wasn’t the most eventful, but the pair traded hits back and forth for a good while before being intercepted by the referee. There wasn’t really a clear winner, so we’ll call this one a draw.

Trouba vs. Tierney

Chris Tierney skated around the ice a bit aimlessly until he finally found a sparring partner in Jacob Trouba. Trouba grabbed him and landed a few hard hits before driving them both into the boards. It was unclear from the footage whether Tierney made or even attempted any hits in return, but Trouba was clearly in control of the confrontation from start to finish. Trouba was the clear winner of this particular battle.

Coach-on-Coach Violence

The coaches of each team were no exception to the fighting that took place. While they didn’t exactly throw hands, the two were seen loudly arguing from their respective benches shortly after the ejection of the eight players. The two coaches were visibly pointing and wagging their fingers at each other as nearby players watched.

Both coaches knew to expect the blowout between MacDermid and Rempe, but to some extent, they also played a role in escalating it into the much larger incident that took place. Travis Green chose to also start Curtis Lazar, who’s been no stranger to scraps and has been in 16 fights in his career. As the home team, New York got the last change, so Laviolette had no choice but to adjust his lineup accordingly. He responded by starting veteran Barclay Goodrow, who has been in nearly 50 fights in his NHL career. Neither coach could have predicted the events that took place, but both could have done more in advance to de-escalate. 

Travis Green coach Vancounver Canucks
Travis Green, interim head coach for the New Jersey Devils

After the game Green was quick to point fingers, telling reporters “I have no idea why Peter was upset. Their guys were lining up fights before the game. You’re going to start yelling, you’re going to get it back.” This was a bit of a confusing statement as Green and Laviolette had both equally decided to start their best enforcers. It was especially confusing because it appeared from the footage shown on TV that Green was the one initiating contact with Laviolette, even physically crossing over behind the press box to get closer to the Rangers’ bench. Laviolette walked away from him seemingly trying to disengage, but Green continued shouting until Laviolette returned for more. Their heated exchange only ended after Laviolette walked away a second and final time. It’s unclear exactly what was said, but anyone with a basic understanding of body language can tell that tensions were high. Venturing further, without knowing any more details, it does appear at first glance that Green’s actions escalated the conflict while Laviolette tried to end it.

In his postgame interview, Laviolette gave a simple defense of his players, telling reporters “Our guys were reacting to what was happening on the ice. I thought they did a fantastic job, all five of them.” When asked about his exchange with Travis Green, Laviolette replied “I think it’s probably just emotions more than anything. There’s obviously a little bit between the two teams. How’s that for vague?” A cheeky answer maybe, but he kept it classy.

Playoff Outlook

With any luck, this game was a sneak preview of an explosive potential playoff matchup. Although the beef between Rempe and MacDermid seems to be settled for the moment, we can safely assume the Devils and their fans aren’t going to hop on the Rempe bandwagon anytime soon. In just two months in the NHL, Rempe has already developed an incredibly telling record against the Devils. While playing the Devils this season, Rempe has had just 5:03 of ice time but has served a whopping 47 penalty minutes. He has also been ejected in all three games he’s played against the Devils. This is only the beginning of Rempe’s career, so this thrilling saga will surely continue to electrify the Hudson River rivalry for years to come.

The Devils began the season with high hopes, but have since suffered multiple setbacks that have all but crushed their playoff aspirations. Several of their key players have suffered injuries this season, most notably Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton. They struggled under questionable coaching for the majority of the season before finally firing Lindy Ruff in early March and replacing him with current interim coach Travis Green. The Devils also lost two rostered players to the ongoing Hockey Canada 2018 investigation and were forced to place these players on IR for the foreseeable future. Finally, they have also struggled to achieve consistent goaltending this season.

The Devils are still competing for a playoff spot, but it isn’t looking too hopeful. This loss to the Rangers makes three straight losses for the Devils, who remain six points behind Washington for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They have just six games remaining to change their postseason outcome.

The Rangers, on the other hand, increased their lead over the division as they came out of this major rivalry game with a 4-3 win. The Rangers were first in the NHL to clinch this season and are currently in the lead for the Presidents Trophy Race.

Many of New York’s up-and-coming young stars shined in this game, showing a promising future for the win-now team. Rempe continues to attract attention and gain popularity around the league. After the game, Peter Laviolette remarked with a grin that Rempe is “living his best life right now.” Rempe, who has time and again appeared to thoroughly enjoy firing up the crowds with his clowning, has already carved out a role for himself with the Rangers. Still, he has yet to prove himself as an all-around player. Rempe has stated that he certainly intends to do so. “I want to show to the coaching staff that I can be a really effective player in playoffs,” said Rempe. “I want to be a good player. I don’t want to just be known as a guy who just fights. I want to be known as a guy who’s tough, but I want to be known as a guy who… is a very effective bottom-six forward who can skate, be really good checker, can be physical, be good defensively, maybe eventually be a penalty killer one day.”

Both of the Rangers’ recent high draft picks were also instrumental in this game. Alexis Lafreniere, the number one overall draft pick in 2020, tallied an assist as well as his 26th goal of the season. This comes just days after Lafreniere recorded his first career hat trick for the Rangers on March 30th. Kaapo Kakko, the number two overall draft pick in 2019, scored a missile of a goal to tie the game late in the 3rd.

Despite setbacks caused by all the excitement at the top of the game, the Rangers were able to pull out a satisfying win against their division rivals and simultaneously solidify their reputation as a tough and gritty team to play against. 

Next up: Rempe Controversy: Is Four Game Suspension Enough?

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