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BRUINS 0, ISLANDERS 0

Bruins get nothing, but look to add

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Imagine Sergei Gonchar or Brian Leetch on the Boston backline. The Bruins are imagining it, and after last night's 0-0 tie here with the Islanders, the idea of having one or both of those offensive forces in a Boston uniform could qualify as equal parts fantasy and downright necessity.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations, the Bruins in recent days have made substantial offers for both Leetch, the soon-to-be-36-year-old Ranger, and Gonchar, the 29-year-old Capital who stands to be the prized catch of the NHL swap meet that is gaining power as the March 9 trade deadline approaches.

Of the two talented blue liners, Gonchar would be more tantalizing, and more costly. According to the source, the Bruins have been aggressive with their offers, including a first-round draft choice in both packages. The offer to Washington also could include at least one higher-profile roster player, possibly injured winger Sergei Samsonov, the Magical Muscovite who missed most of last year with a wrist injury and subsequent surgery, and who now is struggling with a rib injury.

"We have our lines in the water," said Boston general manager Mike O'Connell, here last night to witness his club's second blanking in as many nights. "Now, whether anyone bites, who knows?"

O'Connell, who maintained his cool when club owner Jeremy Jacobs banged the table for change amidst a free-fall in the standings in December, would not confirm details of any offers. Routinely tight-lipped in regard to club dealings, especially those involving possible trades, he also is bound by league rules not to comment about players who are currently under contract with other clubs.

"I've got nothing to say," said O'Connell. "I can't. I just can't."

O'Connell already this season has improved the backline with the promotion of Shaone Morrisonn from Providence and the acquisition of Jiri Slegr from Vancouver. Prior to their arrival, the Bruins were a downright mess in their own end, failing game after game to advance the puck up ice. Without that boost from the rear, they virtually never scored off the rush --because there was no rush -- and then they never saw their blue line corps engage in the offense once they moved as a five-man unit over the offensive blue line.

With the addition of Gonchar or Leetch, or both, the Bruins would not only further upgrade the backline, they would be thrust among the favorites to come out of the East and reach the Stanley Cup finals.

On a Washington team that is being ripped apart in a salary dump, Gonchar has 7 goals and 42 assists, factoring in 49 of the club's 147 goals. He is the top-scoring defenseman in the NHL, holding a 9-point lead over the likes of Chris Pronger, Mathieu Schneider, and Rob Blake.

The Rangers, meanwhile, have all but slipped off the radar screen in the East, going from fair, to bad, to dreadful over the last six weeks -- getting only worse after their acquisition of Jaromir Jagr from the Capitals. Leetch, the former Boston College standout, has 11 goals and 32 points, admittedly a far cry from his career high of 102 points in '91-92. A small but dynamic skater, he carries a high ticket of around $6 million a year, and he is under contract for the same money next season. He would be the highest-salaried employee on the Bruins upon his arrival.

A key area where the Bruins need improvement -- and where Leetch or Gonchar would help -- is the power play. Amid the shutout here, the Bruins went 0 for 3 on the advantage, shut out on the power play for the fifth time in the last seven games. They are 2 for 25 on the power play in the last seven games. Imagine where they'll stand in April if, after a seven-game series, they show 2 for 25 on the power play? It's not mandatory to score on the power play in the postseason. But it's a virtual lock that 2 for 25 will keep a club from advancing to the next round.

The Bruins have been shut out eight times this season. They've scored only one goal in a dozen other games. That's 20 games, nearly one-third of the season, with either one goal or no goals. The power play in those 20 games: 3 for 67. And that, more than anything, is why they've made their aggressive bids for Gonchar and Leetch.

Will they land either of them? Well, they no doubt could close the deal this morning if they wanted to toss rising star Patrice Bergeron into the deal. That's not going to happen. They also won't give up prospect Hannu Toivonen or Mark Stuart. All of which puts the focus on the likes of Jeff Jillson and Samsonov, both of whom are young and likely attractive to the rebuilding Capitals. Because of Leetch's age, the Rangers would have to settle for less than what the Capitals will get, which could make him the better bet to return to the Hub of Hockey.

For now, stay tuned, because these next two weeks could be the difference between another also-ran of a postseason and perhaps making things exciting again on Causeway Street.

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