As two of the NHL's Original Six franchises, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are steeped in history, although their proudest chapters are in the distant past.
At the start of the 2008-09 season, though, both teams are playing like serious contenders again.
With four straight victories, the Blackhawks seek their longest winning streak in nearly seven years Wednesday night when they host a Bruins club that's won six of seven.
These teams have endured lean times in recent years. Chicago (7-3-3) has not made the playoffs since 2001-02, and hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1961 - the longest drought in the NHL. Although the Bruins (8-3-3) have appeared in four of the last six postseasons, they haven't advanced past the first round in a decade and haven't captured the Cup since 1972.
This season has opened on a more promising note for both clubs. Chicago, off to its best start since its last playoff season, beat Calgary 6-1 on Sunday night.
Patrick Kane and Martin Havlat each had a goal and two assists for the Blackhawks, who are looking for their longest win streak since a six-game run from Dec. 26, 2001-Jan. 6, 2002.
They also improved to 6-0-2 at the United Center, where they are averaging the highest attendance in the league.
"It's a great motivator for our club," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told the NHL's official Web site. "With their backing it creates a great environment with excitement and noise. The pace of the game is quicker when they're into it. It's been a great start. It's 21,000 every night. It has to be the greatest place to play."
Jonathan Toews had been the rare Chicago player not off to a great start this season, but he finally scored his first goal in the 13th game Sunday night. The 20-year-old center and first-year captain ended his drought on a shot that trickled through the pads of the Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff.
"It had to be a goal like that, where it wasn't going to be pretty," said Toews, who had 24 goals and 30 assists as a rookie last season. "It went in. It's a confidence boost."
Cristobal Huet made 22 saves to record his second straight win. Although Huet has yet to start consecutive games this season while sharing time with Nikolai Khabibulin, Quenneville may be tempted to give him another start Wednesday. Huet is 10-3-0 with a 1.91 goals-against average versus the Bruins, while Khabibulin is 6-9-0 with two ties and a 3.18 GAA.
Boston is getting stellar goaltending regardless of who is in net, having allowed seven goals over the last six games. Tim Thomas has made at least 30 saves in each of his last four starts and owns a .944 save percentage on the season. Manny Fernandez got the start Saturday and stopped 32 shots as the Bruins beat Buffalo 3-1 to complete a perfect three-game homestand.
Chuck Kobasew had a goal and an assist in his return for Boston after missing 12 games with a broken leg.
"Chuck looked good," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I told him if he came back in, he had to be a difference-maker."
The Bruins have won the last two meetings with the Blackhawks, including a 5-3 victory Dec. 29, 2006 in their last visit to Chicago.