The futures of the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are being dictated early this season by three of the NHL's budding talents.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lead the improving Blackhawks (5-4-0) into Boston on Thursday night to meet Phil Kessel and the Bruins (5-3-0), who are looking to continue their strong play at home.
This is the first matchup of the Original Six franchises at Boston since 2003. Last season, the Bruins posted a 5-3 win in Chicago on Dec. 29 to snap a three-game skid in the series, and will be looking for back-to-back wins over the Blackhawks for the first time since Oct. 27, 1990-Feb. 9, 1991.
Though the Blackhawks dropped a 7-4 decision to Columbus on Tuesday, Kane and Toews continued to show why this franchise - which has played one playoff series in the last decade - appears to have turned a corner.
Kane, selected first overall in this season's NHL draft, had two goals and two assists for his third straight multipoint game, but still wasn't satisfied.
"I didn't play that well. I think I just got the bounces. Things kind of went my way," said Kane, who's tied with Toews for the lead among rookies with three goals.
Kane leads all rookies with 10 assists and 13 points, and could become the first Blackhawk to lead a rookie class in scoring since 1982-83 when Steve Larmer had 47 goals and 43 assists for 90 points.
Toews, who missed the first two games of the season with a broken finger, also scored in the loss to extend his point streak to seven games. The third overall pick in 2006 has four assists to go with his three tallies.
The Bruins took Kessel two spots after Toews was picked, and he came back from testicular cancer surgery to tally 11 goals and 18 assists in 70 games as a rookie last season. He got off to a quick start with three goals and two assists in his first four games, but has gone pointless in his last four.
Kessel did score the lone shootout goal to give Boston a 1-0 home win over the New York Rangers on Saturday. The Bruins' four-game winning streak, though, ended with a 6-1 loss at Montreal on Monday.
First-year Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez was beaten twice for goals off faceoffs, and the veteran finished with just 14 saves. Dennis Wideman's goal early in the third period helped Boston avoid the shutout.
"I think we have said (all) along that this is a very humbling game," Boston coach Claude Julien told the team's official Web site. "Just when you think you are on top, you realize that you can come back down to Earth pretty quick."
Julien probably will go with Tim Thomas in goal for this game, though Fernandez has a more successful history against Chicago.
Thomas is 3-1-0 with a league-leading 1.26 goals-against average this season, and made 37 saves during last year's win over the Blackhawks in his only career appearance against them.
Fernandez has struggled since coming over in an offseason trade from Minnesota, posting a 2-2-0 record but with a GAA of nearly 4. Since March 2004, though, he's won each of his last seven starts against Chicago with a 1.94 GAA and one shutout.
The Bruins are looking for their first three-game home winning streak to start a season since 2001-02, when they won four in a row.
Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has a 2.85 GAA in 2007-08, but has alternated wins and losses en route to a 3-4-0 record. He's 0-4-0 with two ties and a 3.42 GAA in Boston since last winning there in October 1996.