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Bucking Up In a busy week of trades, the Bruins loaded up for a Stanley Cup fight

The Bruins are rarely players in the furious wheeling and dealing
before the trade deadline because they're usually too cautious or
too penurious to make a splashy move. Not this year. On March 3,
six days before the deadline, Boston beat out the Maple Leafs and
the Devils in the bidding for Sergei Gonchar, the top defenseman
on the market, obtaining him from the Capitals for prospect
Shaone Morrisonn and first-and second-round picks in the June
draft. Less than 24 hours later general manager Mike O'Connell
struck another deal with Washington, grabbing shifty second-line
center Michael Nylander for a second-round pick in 2006.

Perhaps even more shocking than making two important personnel
moves in March was the fact that the once bashful Bruins also had
a backup deal for Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch in place. "We
didn't want to lose out," assistant G.M. Jeff Gorton says of
landing a quality blueliner. "We had to keep Leetch alive in case
we didn't get Gonchar."

Why the sudden change in Boston's philosophy? In an unprecedented
predeadline rush for stars, every Eastern Conference contender
added a major weapon, and the Bruins (32-16-14-7 at week's end,
fifth in the conference) couldn't afford to be left behind. The
Flyers got center Alexei Zhamnov, the Senators landed right wing
Peter Bondra, and the Maple Leafs acquired Leetch within hours
after whiffing on Gonchar. Says Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock,
"There is more offensive depth [in the East] than I have ever

Several teams improved themselves over the last few weeks, but
the Bruins outdid everyone else. O'Connell first discussed a
Gonchar trade with Washington G.M. George McPhee in December.
Earlier in the season Boston had also been in the market for a
goalie, but thanks to the stellar play of rookie netminder Andrew
Raycroft, O'Connell was able to shore up two other areas of
concern instead--a sputtering power play and a lack of offensive
spark on the back end.

The 29-year-old Gonchar solves both problems. He was the league's
top-scoring defenseman with 51 points through Sunday, and few
backliners are as adept at moving the puck and jumping into the
offensive zone behind the play. Paired with the stay-at-home Sean
O'Donnell and playing mostly behind the top line centered by Joe
Thornton, Gonchar made his mark with Boston immediately, scoring
a power-play goal in a 3-1 win over the Rangers last Thursday.
Two days later he scored again in a 2-2 tie with the Thrashers.

With Nylander, 31, a versatile playmaker who's still coming into
form after missing most of the season with a broken right leg,
added to the power play as well, the Bruins suddenly have a
potentially explosive unit.

Nylander's contract expires after the season, and he may move on,
but the Bruins are looking to lock up Gonchar with a long-term
deal. He will be a restricted free agent and would earn
significantly more than his current $3.6 million salary in
arbitration. Such a commitment by Boston in an uncertain labor
climate would be the most radical departure yet for a normally
frugal franchise.

COLOR PHOTO: KEVIN WISNIEWSKI/BOSTON HERALD Gonchar (above, center) and Nylander (below) give Boston animproved power play.