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After gaining just one win in five games on two continents, the Anaheim Ducks will be happy to see the Boston Bruins waiting for them when they finally get to raise their Stanley Cup banner in their home opener tonight.

Meanwhile, the Bruins (who have some of the rustiest banner-hoisting equipment in the league) won't host their first game until Oct. 18, when the Tampa Bay Lightning visits Beantown following Boston's five-game Pacific road swing.

It's an odd sign of the times when a home opener in Orange County is sure to stir up more emotion than the first NHL game of the year in New England, where, with every game the Patriots and Red Sox win, the Bruins slide further and further from Boston's sporting spotlight.

DYNAMIC DUO A couple of kids make their highly anticipated debut tonight, as Carey Price suits up in goal for the Montreal Canadiens in Pittsburgh, while Jonathan Toews, whose broken finger is fully healed, will slide in between Tuomo Ruutu and fellow rookie Patrick Kane when the Hawks host San Jose.

Now, lots of talented players enter the league every year and a good number of them never do anything worthy of a smudged press release, let alone a front-page headline. So what's giving people the sense these two are different?

Beyond their tremendous skills, both Toews and Price exude natural confidence. They were the two biggest reasons Canada won the World Junior Championship last winter - Price with his game-saving stops; Toews with his shootout majesty - and while projecting the career path of any youngster is tricky business, here's hoping these two Original Six clubs have both found pillars to build winners around.

WINDS OF CHANGE? If I'm a Carolina fan, I'm more excited about seeing bounce-back years from Eric Staal and Cam Ward forming than I would have been had GM Jim Rutherford gone out and signed Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.

A slimmed-up Ward has yet to lose in regulation and Staal has four goals in four games, making some wonder if he got a little tired of hearing endless praise for his little brother last year.

In a division that could be won by a beer league team with a couple ringers, Carolina has to like their chances if those two players continue their early success.



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