By Sean Hartnett
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The New York Rangers earned a crucial two points by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes in Monday’s 2-1 overtime shootout victory.  New York is now within striking distance of a playoff spot, as they’re two points off the eight seed in the Eastern Conference.

While the Blueshirts lifted the gloom by snapping a three-game losing streak, some big questions remain about the Rangers, who haven’t earned back-to-back wins since March 7.  New York is 3-4-0 in back-to-back games this season and 0-3-0 in the second game of a back-to-back.

If there’s ever been a game where the Rangers must make a statement, it’s against the Devils across the Hudson at Prudential Center.  Defenseman Michael Del Zotto called Tuesday night’s meeting “a huge rivalry game for us.”

Rangers captain Ryan Callahan understands the importance of putting together a streak and gaining some momentum back by beating the Devils in their own building — a task easier said than done.

“Obviously, the two points is the big thing,” Callahan said after Monday’s victory. “It means nothing if we don’t go into Jersey and get a win.  You’re only as good as your last game, so you’ve got to go to Jersey and show that kind of effort we did in the second and third.”

In their past four games, the Rangers have averaged less than one regulation goal per game.  A confident Callahan believes there’s no question that the Rangers will find their scoring touch in games to come.

“Pucks will start going for us, too,” Callahan stated. “There’s no concern in this room, no matter what reporters say or anybody says. We know we have guys in here who can score goals, and it’s going to come.”

Monday’s shootout hero, J.T. Miller, is never short of confidence.  Miller patiently drew Hurricanes goalie Dan Ellis out of his net to score the shooutout-winning goal.  Even though the 20-year-old Miller is just 20 games into his NHL career, it’s clear that he has the right sort of mentality needed to handle the rigors of the NHL.  Miller knows that every remaining game is of playoff intensity, and he brings energy and focus every night.

“Going forward here, we have to look at it as playoff hockey,” Miller explained.  “We have to take it day-by-day and try and worry about tomorrow.  We have a big game tomorrow.”

Linemate Brian Boyle said of Miller: “He’s got a lot of ability and some confidence on the puck.  He’s smart, he communicates on the ice.  He’s impressive, he wants to get better, he’s ultra-competitive.  He’s a little harder on himself than I think he should be, but that’s going to keep him going and that’s great.”

Like Miller, Henrik Lundqvist is always very self-critical of his own game and understands the crucial nature of Tuesday’s rivalry meeting at The Rock.

“It’s going to be a tough game for us, but hopefully we can start winning here.  We’re in a tough spot and it’s going to be a critical game for us,” Lundqvist said.

If the Rangers can earn a hard-fought win in Newark, it could be the springboard for things to come.  Should they not get off to the right start at Prudential Center, they will be eaten alive by a max-effort Devils team that also has individuals that can make any team pay. All-world winger Ilya Kovalchuk, superb sophomore Adam Henrique, ageless Patrik Elias and gritty pest David Clarkson can do major damage.

If the Rangers give anything less than a full effort over three periods at The Rock, there’s no chance they’ll come away with a victory.  All season long, the Rangers — and particularly some of their biggest stars — have gone missing for large stretches during games.  That can’t happen on Tuesday night against the Devils in a game that means everything to the Rangers’ psyche.

Should the Rangers not get the job done at Prudential Center, bigger questions will be asked of their underperforming stars, and the pressure will be tightened on John Tortorella.  It’s up to the Blueshirts to bury their demons in New Jersey.

How damaging would a loss to the Devils be to the Rangers’ hopes of making the playoffs?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.

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