NEW YORK - Now they can look ahead to the Winter Classic.

After insisting all week that they wanted to focus on the New York Rangers last night before thinking about their historic date at Boston's Fenway Park, the Flyers backed up their words.

They built a 3-0 first-period lead, chased the opposing goalie, and coasted to their fourth consecutive victory, a 6-0 win over the Rangers in front of a restless sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Left winger Simon Gagne, returning to form after missing most of the season because of hernia and abdominal surgery, scored the third hat trick of his career as the Flyers improved to 19-18-2.

Gagne still isn't in top shape, but he's getting there.

"Three goals help the confidence," Gagne said. "It's only my sixth game back since the surgery, but it's starting to feel pretty good. I know I have to be patient and it'll take a while before my legs feel good. It's hard. Those guys are maybe one step quicker than I am on the ice. They've been playing for three months and I've been sitting for two months, but it's definitely a great feeling to get those three goals tonight."

Having Gagne show flashes of last season's 34-goal form "is big. He's obviously a guy we're counting on to score a lot of goals," defenseman Chris Pronger said.

Michael Leighton, claimed off reentry waivers from Carolina on Dec. 15, made 22 saves and registered his fourth career shutout - and first since Dec. 28, 2003. It was the Flyers' first shutout at Madison Square Garden since 1999.

The Flyers, who avenged a 2-1 Dec. 19 loss, are 6-7-1 under Peter Laviolette heading into tomorrow's Winter Classic against the Bruins.

"We remember what happened a couple of weeks ago," Flyers forward Danny Briere said after scoring a goal and adding an assist. "These guys played well in our building, and we owed it to them."

Gagne, who also notched an assist, recorded his first hat trick since 2005 (vs. Atlanta) - and the second of his career at Madison Square Garden. The first was in 2002.

The Flyers' four straight wins - all on the road - have followed a players-only meeting after a listless 4-1 loss to visiting Florida on Dec. 21. The message of that meeting:

"Just have fun and show up to the rink with a smile on your face; you're not going to gain any confidence by holding your head down and moping," Pronger said. "We were at the bottom of the barrel and getting booed off the ice by our own fans, and there's nothing more defeating than that."

The Flyers started last night ranked 13th in the Eastern Conference, but they finished it tied for eighth with three teams, including the Rangers.

In addition to Gagne and Briere, Blair Betts and Claude Giroux scored. Mike Richards (two assists, plus-four), Jeff Carter (two assists), and Kimmo Timonen (five blocked shots, plus-three) were major contributors.

Betts pounced on a rebound of an Ian Laperriere shot and knocked the puck past Henrik Lundqvist after just 54 seconds.

"Pretty special," Betts said about scoring against the team that did not re-sign him after he became a free agent in the off-season.

After the first period, Lundqvist's 300th career game was done. He was replaced by Chad Johnson, making his NHL debut. It wasn't memorable - three goals in 31:10.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.