After a long day of waiting and over 100 days of the lockout, the NHL and NHLPA finally signed the Memo of Understanding late Saturday night, ending the work stoppage and allowing teams to release their team schedules.
NHL Lockout: Sept. 15, 2012 - Jan. 12, 2013. Now over. Officially. MOU signed by NHL and NHLPA.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 13, 2013
Forty-eight games will be squeezed into three months of hockey starting on January 19 and ending on April 25. Each team will play its division and conference rivals but will not have to play the opposing conference this season.
The New Jersey Devils have a very interesting schedule ahead of them as they prepare for the 2013 season. Here is a look at the seven games you can't miss.
While the Devils season officially starts January 19 against the New York Islanders, everyone should have January 22 marked on their calender.
New Jersey will return to The Rock for the first time since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final as the Devils host their home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers. While there are some fans that are still protesting the NHL lockout, there is no doubt that this big game at Prudential Center will be close to sell out.
This will also be the first time these two teams have met since the Devils beat the Flyers in five games during the Eastern Conference Semis in 2012. While there will be some new faces to the rivalry in 2013, it still should be a very high energy and hostile game.
What was supposed to be the original season opener back in October has been moved to January 25 as the Devils host the Washington Capitals.
This will be the first time the Devils face off against former assistant coach Adam Oates as he takes over as the Capitals' head coach. Oates served two years on the Devils' bench and was part of last season's Stanley Cup team.
Fans will want to come see the Capitals as this will be the only time Oates and company come to Newark. New Jersey will travel to Washington for two consecutive games on February 21 and 23 but will not play at Prudential Center again until potentially the playoffs.
Perhaps the most anticipated game of 2013 will be February 5 when the Devils face the New York Rangers at Prudential Center.
It will be the first time since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final that the Devils and Rangers face off against each other. While the building is usually rocking for every Devils-Rangers game, there is no doubt that fans will pack the arena for the first matchup in nine months.
With Adam Henrique aiming for a February return from his thumb injury, it would not be surprising if the Devils tried to get him back in time for this game. He will be greeted by newest Rangers star Rick Nash, who will be playing in his first rivalry game with New York.
The Devils will welcome former forward Alexei Ponikarovsky back to Prudential Center on the first leg of a home and home against the Winnipeg Jets on February 24.
Ponikarovsky signed with Winnipeg during free agency after helping the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final. Poni netted the game-winning goal against the Flyers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and finished the postseason with nine points.
February 28, the second half of a home and home, will actually be the longest commute for the Devils in 2013 (h/t The Star Ledger) New Jersey will not have to face any Western Conference teams this year due to the shortened season.
Another playoff matchup will take place on March 23 when the Devils take on the Florida Panthers.
These two teams went seven games during the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and had their fair share of classic matchups. Between Florida coming back from 3-0 in Game 3 to Zajac's game-winner in Game 6 to Henrique's clincher in Game 7, this series had plenty of memorable moments.
This game could get more interesting if the Panthers pull the trigger on acquiring goaltender Roberto Luongo from Vancouver before the season begins (h/t The Fourth Period). Another Luongo v. Brodeur matchup would add to an already growing rivalry in the Eastern Conference.
From a fan's standpoint, the new NHL schedule set up a few great games to end the 2013 season before turning over to the playoffs. For the Devils, it is going to be challenging.
The last two games of the year will be against two rivals who could be fighting for an Atlantic Division title and playoff positioning. The first of these matchups comes April 25 against Pittsburgh in the Devils final home game.
New Jersey split last year's season series with the Penguins, but three of their wins came without Sidney Crosby in the lineup for Pittsburgh. In the final two games Crosby was in action, the Devils were outscored 10-4.
After months of dealing with a lockout, Devils fans will want to see the regular season end with a bang. Anything can happen in a shortened season, but their home finale should be a good one.
You really couldn't script a better season finale for both of these teams.
On April 27 the Devils and Rangers will end the regular season at Madison Square Garden on NBC. The time of the game has not been determined and will likely be flexed similar to the NFL's Sunday Night Football.
We know that this won't be Brodeur's last showdown with the Rangers, but there might not be as good of a game as this. There is no doubt that this game will mean something coming down to the end of the year, and both teams will play at a high level with the playoffs ahead of them.
If it is anything like the Eastern Conference Finals, prepare for an epic show.