Every NHL fan's worst nightmare was avoided when the lockout ended, and the condensed, 48-game 2013 schedule opens up Saturday with some of the most exciting matchups of the year.
It's a trivial time for hockey's popularity in the sports world following the work stoppage, but the NHL should be able to put itself back on the map with the world's best teams facing off on national television.
With 26 of the 30 teams playing on Saturday's opening day, it should make for a thrilling kickoff to the 2013 season.
Let's take a look at the best matchups that will unfold on the ice over the NHL's opening weekend.
Flyers vs. Penguins: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers gave us one of the most exciting opening-round matchups in Stanley Cup playoff history and set goal scoring records in the process. There's no doubt that the in-state rivals will play a thrilling game Saturday.
Despite down seasons in 2011-12 for each team, both the Penguins and Flyers are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. They will want to get their season off to a hot start against their bitter rival.
The Flyers may have struck out over the offseason in an attempt to add star power, but they're still loaded with elite players—given they shore up their goaltending problems.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, will enter the season with a healthy Sidney Crosby for the first time in years, and that is as big of a blessing as the Penguins could possibly hope for. If he can return to his elite form, his team will be tough to beat.
Blackhawks vs. Kings: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET
The Los Angeles Kings will be opening up their season and raising a Stanley Cup championship banner in the basketball-clad Staples Center rafters when the Chicago Blackhawks come to town.
The Blackhawks should be motivated by watching the celebration, as many members of that team were around for their 2010 Stanley Cup win. With the season slate unblemished, watching something they experienced not too long ago will have them playing hard.
Both teams are Western Conference contenders and aren't short on firepower that could lead them to deep playoff runs. These two squads always play exciting games that come down to the wire.
Both teams have been there before and whoever comes out of this game a winner will have a leg up on the West's elite.
Bruins vs. Rangers: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
Arguably the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are set to square off on prime time when the New York Rangers visit the Boston Bruins.
The Rangers were one of the Stanley Cup favorites last season before their offense dried up in the Eastern Conference finals, but that problem shouldn't be magnified this season after picking up Rick Nash in the offseason.
The Bruins didn't have as much success in last year's playoffs, and they'll look to have a bounce-back season behind the suffocating defensive play of Zdeno Chara. Their offense has a handful of major contributors, including Tyler Seguin, who is ready to take that next step toward greatness.
This game won't be short on star power, and both teams should come out swinging in what will be one of the more physical showdowns of the season.
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