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Vancouver Canucks vs. New York Islanders

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GAME: Vancouver Canucks (30-15-7-2) at New York Islanders (25-20-5-2).

TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST.

For all the grief New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury has received over the years, he was responsible for two of the best trades the franchise has seen in a long time.

Milbury should be on hand when Calder Trophy candidate Trent Hunter and All-Star defenseman Adrian Aucoin lead the Islanders against the Vancouver Canucks at Nassau Coliseum.

Acquired from Anaheim for a fourth-round draft pick in 1998, Hunter has played a huge roll in the Islanders' drive toward a third consecutive playoff appearance. New York currently occupies the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, five points ahead of Buffalo and three behind seventh-place Montreal with 30 games to play.

The Islanders have lost just once in regulation in their last nine (5-1-2-1).

"Our confidence is a lot higher now," Hunter said after a recent victory. "We'd get down a goal or two before and the wind would go out of our sails, now we're sticking to our game plan no matter what the score is."

With Alexei Yashin and Mark Parrish likely out until March with injuries, Hunter has emerged as New York's best goal scorer.

Hunter, selected for the NHL YoungStars game to be played during All-Star weekend, leads the Islanders with 19 goals and 35 points. He also leads all NHL rookies in goals, is three points back of Montreal's Michael Ryder despite playing six less games, and is tied for third in the NHL in game-winning goals with six.

Aucoin, who will be making his first All-Star appearance, has done nothing but shine on Long Island since coming over from Tampa Bay in 2001. He has a team-high 26 assists and leads the NHL with a plus-26 rating.

"If we're up a goal with five minutes to go, he's probably going to be out there 3{ minutes out of the five," coach Steve Stirling said of Aucoin. "He's a meat-and-potatoes player.

"He gets the puck, moves it, follows up on the play, shoots it, makes plays, plays hard down low. You really see it in critical situations. And he does it with no fanfare. Unless you're watching carefully, you might not notice him."

Hunter, Aucoin and the rest of the Islanders will need to keep up their intensity when they face the Canucks, who will be looking to bounce back following a 4-3 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday ended their five-game winning streak.

Vancouver, the fourth-highest scoring team in the league, is led by league points leader Markus Naslund, center Brendan Morrison and former Islander Todd Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi came up with the Islanders but accounted for just 35 goals and 45 assists in 192 games from 1995-97. He was then traded by Milbury to the Canucks, where he has emerged as the premier power forward in the league.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound wing has 148 goals and 186 assists since the start of the 1999 season.

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