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By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- A victory over the reigning Stanley Cup champions is one reason why the New York Rangers feel they're finally improving under first-year coach Alain Vigneault.
Showing some consistency at Madison Square Garden would give them another.
The Rangers, coming off a stretch in which they played six of seven on the road, look to hand the Dallas Stars a fifth straight loss Friday as they open a four-game homestand.
New York (22-20-3) is coming off one its strongest games this season in a 3-2 victory at Chicago on Wednesday. The win improved the Rangers to 6-2-1 in their last nine overall.
"I think we've been playing a lot better as of late," said left wing Carl Hagelin, who scored the winner with 5:57 left. "This is the way we want to play. We need to come out flying. This is what we want to do - beat the good teams.
"Lately, we have a lot of confidence and try not to get too frustrated. Some games the puck goes in and other days it doesn't. But I think when you're creating chances you stay positive."
Creating chances hasn't been a problem away from home lately for the Rangers, who have 18 goals in winning four of five. New York hasn't been nearly as successful at MSG, though, going 4-8-3 there since earning four victories in its first six at home.
Henrik Lundqvist hasn't helped, going 1-7-3 with a 3.18 goals-against average in his past 11 on home ice. However, he may find himself in net again after he was superb against the Blackhawks with 35 saves - eight coming after Hagelin's decisive goal. He also got on the score sheet with an assist on a first-period tally by Mats Zuccarello.
Lundqvist has a 1.72 GAA while winning three of his last four against the Stars, including a 41-save performance in a 3-2 road win at Dallas on Nov. 21.
Brad Richards doesn't have a point in two games against the Stars since leaving them for the Rangers via free agency in 2011. He's entering this matchup with two goals and two assists in three games, getting one of each Wednesday.
The center is tied with Zuccarello for the team lead with 11 goals and 20 assists. However, Richards has scored just twice at home this season, and hasn't found the net in nine straight contests.
Zuccarello has been held without a point in two career meetings with Dallas, while Chris Kreider had a goal Nov. 21.
Kreider has been much better at home than on the road. The left wing has seven goals and 11 assists at the Garden compared to four and two, respectively, in away games.
The Stars, facing their first five-game skid since the end of last season, are concluding a three-game Metropolitan Area trip. They lost 1-0 at New Jersey on Thursday after a 7-3 rout at the New York Islanders on Monday.
"We need to keep working," said Kari Lehtonen, who had 34 saves after allowing all seven goals against the Islanders. "During a season, there are tough times and really good times. Our job is to cut this as short as possible and start playing well again."
Center Tyler Seguin, who leads Dallas with 21 goals and 41 points, hasn't managed a point in three straight games. He came up empty on a team-high six shots Thursday.
"I am pretty much a guy who needs to produce. I'm not satisfied," Seguin said. "We are wanting to win, but we are not hating to lose."
Seguin has no points in four straight regular-season meetings with the Rangers.
Updated January 10, 2014