NEWARK, N.J. -- After Monday night’s 2-1 shootout win over the Hurricanes, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan stressed the importance of capitalizing, saying the win meant "nothing" if the team couldn’t follow it up with another against New Jersey the next night.
The Rangers did back up the win Tuesday with their second victory in as many nights, topping the Devils 3-2 at the Prudential Center and leapfrogging their division rivals in the standings to nab eighth place.
It was an important back-to-back set for the Rangers, who weathered an abrupt gut check after a three-game losing streak on the road last week and also withstood a resilient Devils squad that twice tied the game in the first period.
"It means a lot," said Callahan. "I think we take the next step and you can put that tough stretch behind us now."
In an offensive outburst that has seemed rare for the recently goal-starved team, the Rangers tallied twice in a span of 5:01 in the first period and snapped a 2-2 draw in the middle frame with Rick Nash’s go-ahead goal. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was also a catalyst for the Blueshirts, opening scoring with a short-handed goal and setting up Nash’s 10th of the season.
Nash’s deciding goal was a beauty, too, preceded by a terrific sequence of saves from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Lundqvist made two short-handed stops to blank New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Steve Bernier before Del Zotto sprang Nash and linemate Brad Richards on a 2-on-1. Streaking down the right wing, Nash sent a sizzling wrist shot past Devils netminder Johan Hedberg for a 3-2 lead at 7:25.
"He definitely gave us some momentum," Nash said. "We were coming off a penalty kill and I think we caught them in kind of a bad change and Del Zotto made a great play up the ice and sent me and Richards on a 2-on-1. The D-man was sort of cheating the pass, so I thought to shoot."
After a particularly active offensive game one night prior, Del Zotto was rewarded for his efforts Tuesday. The 22-year-old blueliner batted one out of the air for a short-handed goal after Hedberg mishandled the puck along the boards at 11:49 of the first period.
"It’s funny. You get so many glorious chances from the slot and that’s the one that goes in for you, but I’ll take it," Del Zotto said. "I’m just happy to contribute here."
After a pretty wide-open first 40 minutes, the Rangers tightened up in the third to protect the lead, while Lundqvist turned away all seven shots he faced in the final frame to collect wins in back-to-back starts.
"It was a pretty open game," said Lundqvist, who finished with 29 saves. "Lot of chances both ways but I think we did a very good job and, in the end, I thought we played smart."
On the outside looking in at the playoff picture for a brief stretch, the Rangers now control their own destiny to remain in the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.
They have resurrected some offense and with it, some swagger, as they head into their next two games at home -- on Thursday against the beleaguered Panthers and Sunday against the Capitals.
With two straight wins and a couple of upcoming opponents foundering at the bottom of the standings, the Rangers hope to keep rolling.
"We have to keep moving forward and hopefully get some confidence out of this win," Del Zotto said, "and put together a few more."