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Bruins take another hit as Leetch to miss month

WILMINGTON -- Bruins defenseman Brian Leetch will be sidelined for a month because of a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered late in the second period of Tuesday night's game against the Islanders at Uniondale, N.Y.

Leetch, 37, collided with former Bruin Shawn Bates at Boston's blue line with about 3:10 remaining in the middle period of the Bruins' 4-3 overtime loss.

While his teammates were preparing for tonight's game against the Florida Panthers at the TD Banknorth Garden, Leetch was undergoing an MRI. He was examined by team doctor Bertram Zarins at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Bruins captain Joe Thornton said he spoke with Leetch yesterday.

''He feels stiff," said Thornton. ''We had a long bus ride [Tuesday night to the airport], it was like an hour, and a flight [home]. Everything just seemed to be long."

Thornton said that with Leetch sidelined, the rest of the team is going to have to answer the bell. Leetch has three goals and five assists in 14 games this season.

''He is a big part of our power play and a big part of our offense and he's a big part of our defense corps," Thornton said. ''It's a big void but we've got six guys back there and each of them has to play a little bit more minutes and a little bit better. He's been great for us so far. I think all 20 guys really have to step it up and play a little bit better."

Although the Bruins have but two victories in their last six outings, they've earned at least a point in each.

''We haven't been playing bad," said Thornton. ''We're still positive. If we get on a winning streak, just getting the 2 points, it could be a real confidence booster for the team. It's tough when you spot them a couple of goals early. It really puts you behind the eight ball. If we get better starts, I think we can hold on and finally get the 2 points we need in every game."

He said the revolving door letting players in and out of the lineup because of injuries hasn't made it any easier.

''That's tough, just when we're ready to get Alex [Zhamnov] back, [Leetch] goes down," said Thornton. ''We just can't seem to get everybody healthy at the same time. We've got to deal with injuries, all of us have dealt with injuries in the past. Everybody has to pick up their game. The [defense] have to pick it up for Leetchie being out and, obviously, we've got to help out.

''I thought we had a 50-minute effort [against the Islanders]. We gave them the first two goals of the game early and then we kind of rallied off of that. Obviously, we have to play better the whole 60 minutes, but we're getting there."

The Bruins summoned Milan Jurcina from Providence to take the place of Leetch, which is no small assignment.

''I'm stating the obvious when I say he's a tough guy to replace," said coach Mike Sullivan. ''Brian is capable of things out there that a lot of guys aren't. Having said that, he's still playing within the framework of our game plan, and our guys who are here now are the same. We believe we have a capable group, we'll simplify our game and make sure we play to our strengths.

''We'll deal with our healthy guys and we'll try to put together a game plan that will help us win. Our team, obviously, has faced a fair amount of adversity right off the bat. I believe it's going to make our team a better team."

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