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GAME: New York Rangers (23-31-7-5) at Boston Bruins (31-16-13-7).
TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
For 17 seasons, Brian Leetch patrolled the blueline for the New York Rangers. Now he calls Toronto home.
The revamped Rangers will begin life without Leetch, Alexei Kovalev and Petr Nedved when they visit the Boston Bruins and their new star defenseman, Sergei Gonchar.
Leetch, traded Wednesday night to the Maple Leafs for a package of prospects and high draft picks, has only been with the Rangers during an illustrious NHL career that began in 1988, immediately after he played for the United States in the Calgary Olympics.
"There's a lot of tough deals you have to make," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. "This certainly ranks right up there with the toughest."
The Rangers, who are well on their way to missing the playoffs for the seventh straight season, acquired defenseman Maxim Kondratiev, forward Jarkko Immonen, a first-round pick in this year's draft and a second-round choice in 2005. The Maple Leafs also received a conditional pick.
"Brian is not only one of the best players to ever play for the New York Rangers, he's also a classy individual," Sather said.
"We feel we did very well with the players we got and the draft choices we got. We felt that going as far as we did go with Toronto was as maximum as we could get."
New York made its first deal Tuesday night following a 4-3 loss to Atlanta, sending disappointing forward Kovalev to Montreal for a prospect and a 2004 second-round pick. The Rangers did not stop there, shipping center Nedved and goalie Jussi Markkanen to Edmonton on Wednesday for forward Dwight Helminen, goalie Stephen Valiquette and a second-round pick this year.
Unlike the Rangers, the Bruins are fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and need to fill some holes. They did so early Wednesday as they acquired offensive-minded defenseman Gonchar from Washington for Shaone Morrisonn and first- and second-round selections in the 2004 draft.
The 29-year-old Gonchar had seven goals and 42 assists to lead the Capitals with 49 points. He recorded a league-best 27 power-play assists in 56 games with the Caps, and should help a Boston power-play unit that is ranked 14th in the NHL.
"The addition of Sergei makes us a better hockey club," Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell said. "He is one of the premier offensive defensemen in the game and that was an element that we felt needed upgrading on our team. He moves the puck very well, has great awareness on the ice and will be a great addition to our power play."
O'Connell's team could use whatever spark Gonchar can provide starting Thursday night. The Bruins lost 3-2 to Toronto on Tuesday to fall to 1-2-2-1 in their last six games.
Boston was outshot 18-7 during the first period in falling two points behind Toronto for the Northeast Division lead.
STANDINGS (through March 2): Rangers - 58 points, 4th place, 26 PB, Atlantic Division. Bruins - 82 points, 3rd place, 2 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jaromir Jagr, 25 goals, 38 assists and 63 points; Chris Simon, 221 PIM. Bruins - Glen Murray, 28 goals; Joe Thornton, 45 assists and 62 points; Doug Doull, 115 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 2): Rangers - Power play: 14.1 percent (37 for 263), 25th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.1 percent (261 for 322), 27th. Bruins - Power play: 16.1 percent (39 for 242), 14th. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (222 for 265), 20th.
GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Mike Dunham (15-23-6, 1 SO, 2.97 GAA); Jason LaBarbera (0-1-0, 5.38). Bruins - Andrew Raycroft (22-16-7, 3, 1.99); Felix Potvin (9-7-6, 4, 2.64).
SEASON SERIES: 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 19; Bruins, 5-2. At Boston, Sergei Samsonov had a goal and two assists to lead the Bruins to their sixth win in seven games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 11-15-4-1 on the road; Bruins - 13-9-7-2 at home.