Games We're Excited to See During the 2021-22 NHL Season

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2021

Games We're Excited to See During the 2021-22 NHL Season

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to hockey season.

    Sort of.

    Though the Stanley Cup may still be dented and soaked from the Tampa Bay Lightning's second straight boat parade celebration to close 2020-21, the business of the NHL rolls on.

    Not only do the expansion Seattle Kraken now have a coach, a rink and some players on the roster, the league—as of Thursday evening—has an official schedule of games for the 2021-22 season.

    Things will return to something approaching their pre-pandemic normal, with the Canadian teams once again mixing with their American counterparts in the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions.

    The Arizona Coyotes were moved to the Central to allow room for the Kraken in the Pacific, and the league's 32nd team will officially begin play on Oct. 12 in Las Vegas before making its home debut on Oct. 23 against the Vancouver Canucks.

    It's also a big year for TV watchers now that games will be broadcast in new places.

    The NHL signed a seven-year deal with the Walt Disney Company in March that'll result in games on ESPN and ABC, while Turner Sports agreed to a contract in April that'll have games on TBS and TNT.

    Needless to say, the schedule release immediately sent the hockey writing types at B/R into a date-circling frenzy, and we've compiled a list of several that we're looking forward to in particular.

    Take a look at what we came up with and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.

Tampa Banner Raise vs. Pittsburgh

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    Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    Date: Tuesday, Oct. 12

    Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa

    Why We're Excited: As traditions go, a team could do a lot worse.

    Come October, and for the second time in nine months, the Tampa Bay Lightning will open the home portion of an NHL season with a banner-raising ceremony certifying their status as the best team in the league.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins will be in town to witness the goings-on, and it's perhaps fitting considering the Pens are the only other team to repeat as champions since the arrival of the salary cap era.

    Pittsburgh won Cups in both 2015-16 and 2016-17, but it was beaten by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2017-18 playoffs and hasn't won a playoff series since. The 2021-22 Lightning will look a bit different given trades, the expansion draft and free agency and will attempt to become the first team to three-peat since the New York Islanders won the third of four straight in 1981-82.

Tampa Rematch vs. Montreal

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Date: Tuesday, Dec. 7

    Location: Bell Centre, Montreal

    Why We're Excited: No, they're not traditional rivals.

    But the enmity developed over five summertime games in Tampa and Montreal will certainly be rekindled on Dec. 7 when the Lightning visit the Canadiens for the first time since hoisting the Stanley Cup.

    The teams will actually share space in the Atlantic Division once again this season, as they had in 2019-20 before pandemic-related adjustments kept Montreal in the all-Canadian North Division in 2020-21.

    The Canadiens finished fourth in the seven-team group, but they surprised rivals Toronto and Winnipeg and then beat the Vegas Golden Knights to advance to face the Lightning for the title.

    The teams will play again on Dec. 28 in Tampa and again there on April 2.

Kraken Openers

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Dates: Tuesday, Oct. 12, and Saturday, Oct. 23

    Locations: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas; Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle

    Why We're Excited: You never forget your first time.

    And now that Seattle hockey fans have some names and faces to put with the serpents and anchors on their sweaters, they can now go to counting the days until the newly constructed team takes the ice.

    Stage one of the 2021-22 expansion takes place on Oct. 12 in Las Vegas, where the Kraken will meet their most recent expansion brethren, the Vegas Golden Knights. General manager Ron Francis and the rest of the organization will strive to match the Knights' initial success, which saw them reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season and not fail to qualify for the playoffs in three seasons since.

    The home half of the scheduling doubleheader arrives 11 days later at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, where the Kraken will welcome their nearest geographic rival, the Vancouver Canucks, on Oct. 23.

    The Canucks and Kraken will be rivals in the Pacific Division, and their home rinks are less than 150 miles apart.

Outdoor Games

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Dates: Saturday, Jan. 1 and Saturday, Feb. 26

    Locations: Target Field, Minneapolis; Nissan Stadium, Nashville

    Why We're Excited: There aren't many spectacles that can match it.

    Particularly if the weather is wintry.

    The NHL will venture outdoors twice in 2021-22, starting with the annual Winter Classic on New Year's Day when the St. Louis Blues visit the Minnesota Wild at the home of baseball's Minnesota Twins.

    The teams had been scheduled to play there in 2021, but plans were changed when the 2020-21 season's start was delayed until mid-January. The 2022 game will mark the 14th anniversary of the NHL's first Winter Classic event between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the host Buffalo Sabres.

    Things head outside once again the following month when the Nashville Predators borrow Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans, for a date with the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 26.

    It's the first outdoor game for the Lightning, who become the 27th NHL team to participate in an outdoor regular-season game.

Isles' New Building Opener and First Game vs. Tampa

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Dates: Monday, Nov. 15 and Saturday, Nov. 20

    Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa; UBS Arena, Elmont, New York

    Why We're Excited: It'll be a big week for the New York Islanders.

    First off, on Monday, Nov. 15, the team will face the Tampa Bay Lightning, who've eliminated the Islanders one step from the Stanley Cup Final in each of the last two playoff tournaments.

    The Lightning blitzed New York in six games on the way to a title in 2019-20, then went the seven-game distance—including a 1-0 win in Game 7—to defeat the Islanders before repeating in 2020-21.

    Five days later, on Saturday, Nov. 20, the Islanders will play their first game at UBS Arena in Elmont, New York, where they'll set up shop after playing at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale since entering the NHL in 1972.

    The Islanders will begin the 2021-22 season with 13 straight road games before hosting the Calgary Flames.

Turner's 1st NHL Games

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    Bruce Bennett/Associated Press

    Date: Wednesday, Oct. 13

    Locations: Capital One Arena, Washington; Ball Arena, Denver

    Why We're Excited: It's a new era for hockey on television.

    Turner Sports will be on hand when the puck drops for its first live NHL regular-season broadcast on Oct. 13, when TNT airs a prime-time doubleheader that'll feature the New York Rangers visiting the Washington Capitals followed by the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Chicago Blackhawks.

    For the Rangers and Capitals, it'll be the first meeting since a contentious close to the 2020-21 regular season that saw Washington's Tom Wilson punch Pavel Buchnevich and slam Artemi Panarin to the ice in a subsequent scrum in the second period of a game on May 3.

    Panarin was sidelined for the remainder of the season, and Wilson was fined $5,000 for roughing. A game between the same teams two days later resulted in several fights.

    The Blackhawks-Avalanche game will include the expected return of three-time Stanley Cup champion and Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the entire 2020-21 season because of chronic immune response syndrome.

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