The NHL offseason isn't even a month old, but the league already has hockey fans counting the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the start of next season.
On Friday, the NHL released the 2013-14 regular-season schedule, which is set to begin on Oct. 1 and continue through April 13, with a two-and-a-half-week break in February for the 2014 Winter Olympics, according to CBS Sports hockey writer Adam Gretz.
Unlike last season, the 2013-14 campaign will feature well over 1,200 regular-season matchups and start and end on time, with the postseason beginning on April 16.
Here we'll take a closer look at three of the most intriguing early-season matchups next fall.
Oct. 1: Washington Capitals vs. Chicago Blackhawks
In one of three games on opening night, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will kick off the season at the Madhouse on Madison against reigning league MVP Alex Ovechkin (32 goals and 24 assists) and the Washington Capitals.
Which team will finish with more points in 2013-14?
In addition to Ovechkin, fans will get their first regular-season look at Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane, who powered the Hawks to their second title in four seasons earlier this summer.
As usual, both teams will enter the new year with high expectations and will be expected to contend for the Cup at season's end. The defending champs should have the edge in this opener however.
Last season, only the Los Angeles Kings finished with more wins at home than the Blackhawks, who won 18-of-24 regular-season games in the Windy City. But on the other hand, no team was hotter than Washington towards the end of the season last year.
The Caps finished the regular season going 12-2-2 over the final third of the 48-game schedule.
Oct. 3: Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks
After being swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks last spring, the Vancouver Canucks will be itching to get a shot at their Pacific Division rivals in the two teams' season opener on Oct. 3.
Meanwhile, the Sharks will be looking for another fast start to the year after beginning last year's lockout-shortened season 7-0 before coming back down to earth.
But if one of these teams has more to gain from a season-opening victory in San Jose, it's the Canucks, who have dropped seven straight meetings with the Sharks, including last year's postseason series.
Vancouver hasn't beaten San Jose in 18 months, since January 2012.
Oct. 5: Detroit Red Wings vs. Boston Bruins
The Detroit Red Wings will play as a member of the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, and on the first Saturday night of the regular season, the Wings will head to Beantown where the reigning East champs will welcome them to the Atlantic Division.
Aside from the birth of a new rivalry, fans will get to take in two of the NHL's most storied franchises and two of the Original Six, as WXYZ-TV sports reporter Brad Galli points out:
Red Wings are in Atlantic Division w/ Bruins, Sabres, Panthers, Canadiens, Senators, Lightning, Maple Leafs. Four Original 6 in one division— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) July 19, 2013
The Bruins and Red Wings have combined to win the Stanley Cup more than a dozen times and each has won within the past five years. On top of that, both franchises are perennial contenders, making deep postseason runs year after year.
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