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GAME: New York Islanders (30-23-10-3) at Toronto Maple Leafs (36-19-9-3).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

Already one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now serious contenders for the Stanley Cup, thanks to the arrival of former Norris Trophy winner Brian Leetch.

Acquired Wednesday from the New York Rangers, Leetch is expected to be in the lineup when the Leafs meet the New York Islanders at the Air Canada Centre.

Leetch has only been with the Rangers during his 17-season NHL career, which began in February 1988, immediately after he played for the United States in the Calgary Olympics.

"Brian has been a premier defenseman in this league since first coming into the league," Toronto general manager John Ferguson Jr. said. "We look forward to having a player with his great credentials joining our group."

The Maple Leafs gave up defenseman Maxim Kondratiev, forward Jarkko Immonen, a first-round pick in this year's draft and a second-round choice in 2005 for the 36-year-old Leetch, who has twice won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman.

Leetch played an integral role in helping the Rangers win the Stanley Cup in 1994, their first since 1940. He had 11 goals and 23 assists in 23 playoff games to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

The former Boston College star has 13 goals and 23 assists in 57 games this season.

The move comes at an opportune time for Toronto, which has won two straight following a three-game losing streak. The Maple Leafs, who used two goals from Mats Sundin to beat Boston 3-2 on Tuesday, went into Wednesday's action tied for the most points in the East with Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.

The Islanders know all too well what Leetch is capable of as he registered three goals and six assists in the Rangers' six-game sweep of their archrivals this season.

A home-and-home series against Pittsburgh - the NHL's worst team - figured to give the Islanders an excellent chance at putting more distance between themselves and ninth place in the East.

After losing in overtime 3-2 on Sunday, New York failed to protect a pair of two-goal leads and settled for a 3-3 tie at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

"It pretty much feels like it was two losses (to Pittsburgh)," New York's Mark Parrish said. "It doesn't feel like we got any points out of these games."

With Garth Snow starting in net the past two games, Rick DiPietro is expected to get the call Thursday. DiPietro has allowed three goals in his last three starts.

STANDINGS (through March 2): Islanders - 73 points, 3rd place, 11 PB, Atlantic Division. Maple Leafs - 84 points, 1st place (tied), Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Islanders - Mariusz Czerkawski, 23 goals; Oleg Kvasha, 30 assists; Trent Hunter, 45 points; Eric Cairns, 168 PIM. Maple Leafs - Sundin, 25 goals, 38 assists and 63 points; Tie Domi, 167 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 2): Islanders - Power play: 16.7 percent (43 for 257), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.2 percent (247 for 290), 7th. Maple Leafs - Power play: 19.6 percent (61 for 311), 5th. Penalty killing: 84.9 percent (270 for 318), 9th.

GOALTENDERS: Islanders - DiPietro (16-12-5, 3 SO, 2.26 GAA); Snow (14-14-5, 1, 2.76). Maple Leafs - Ed Belfour (26-15-5, 6, 2.12); Trevor Kidd (5-4-2, 1, 3.15).

SEASON SERIES: Islanders, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 20; Maple Leafs, 2-0. At Toronto, Belfour stopped 25 shots for his fifth shutout of the season, and Mikael Renberg and Gary Roberts scored for the Leafs.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Islanders - 9-14-7-2 on the road; Maple Leafs - 18-10-2-2 at home.

Associated Press
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