Must-see NHL games next season

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The NHL released its 1,312-game 2021-22 regular-season schedule on Thursday.

With the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft having taken place Wednesday, the 2021 NHL Draft taking place Friday and Saturday and the free agency signing period beginning July 28, there are already plenty of games to look forward to.

Here’s a look at several must-see games in 2021-22:

Oct. 12: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning (Lightning home opener)

Tampa Bay was unable to celebrate its home opener in front of fans after winning the Cup in 2020 but are hoping things will be different this time around. Captain Steven Stamkos, defenseman Victor Hedman and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy host captain Sidney Crosby and the Penguins as the Lightning embark on their quest to win the Stanley Cup for the third straight season.

Oct. 12: Seattle Kraken at Vegas Golden Knights (Kraken’s first regular-season game)

The Kraken stocked their roster at the Expansion Draft, highlighted by selecting two-time Stanley Cup champion forward Yanni Gourde, defenseman Mark Giordano and goalie Chris Driedger. They will play their first game against the NHL’s second-newest team, the Golden Knights, who have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of their four seasons since entering the NHL in 2017.

Oct. 13: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs (playoff rematch)

Carey Price and the Canadiens’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final began with them defeating the Maple Leafs in three straight games after trailing the series 3-1 in the first round. Center Austin Matthews and Toronto, which won its first division title in 21 years, will look for some revenge in the first of four games between the teams next season. 

Video: Canadiens upset Maple Leafs in seven-game thriller

Oct. 14: Montreal Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres (Possible Owen Power debut)

This could be the first NHL game for defenseman Owen Power, projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. The 18-year-old scored 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 26 games at the University of Michigan this season and could give the Sabres a boost if he signs and is on the opening-night roster.

Oct. 23: Vancouver Canucks at Seattle Kraken (Seattle home opener)

Following a five-game road trip to start the season, the Kraken will open their home schedule at Climate Pledge Arena against the Vancouver Canucks, their closest geographic rival. The two cities are separated by less than 150 miles and this will be the first of many games for the Pacific Division opponents.

Video: Kraken to play Canucks in home opener

Oct. 26: Vegas Golden Knights at Colorado Avalanche (playoff rematch)

The top two teams during the regular season meet for the first time since the Golden Knights defeated the Avalanche in six games in the second round of the playoffs. Center Nathan MacKinnon and Colorado won the first two games before goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Vegas won the next four. The teams will play three times.

Dec. 1: Pittsburgh Penguins at Edmonton Oilers (Connor McDavid vs. Sidney Crosby)

After not playing each other this season because of temporary division realignment, it will be the first of two games between McDavid and Crosby. Two of the most dynamic players in the NHL, the centers have combined to win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP four times and the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion five times. The teams will also play at Pittsburgh on April 26.

Dec. 7: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens (Stanley Cup Final rematch)

After temporary realignment this season, the Lightning and Canadiens will be back in the same division next season. The Lightning defeated the Canadiens in five games to win the Stanley Cup and this will be the first of three games in the season series. The first game at Tampa Bay will be on Dec. 28.

Dec. 23: Seattle Kraken at Calgary Flames (Mark Giordano returns to Calgary)

Selected by Seattle in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Giordano previously spent 15 seasons with Calgary, including the past eight as captain. He scored 509 points (143 goals, 366 assists) and ranks second in games played (949) in Flames history behind Jarome Iginla (1,219).

Jan. 1, 2022: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild (2022 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic)

The game, which was rescheduled from this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place at Target Field in Minneapolis, home of MLB’s Minnesota Twins. It will be the second outdoor game hosted by the Wild (2016 Stadium Series) and it will be against their Central Division rival. Minnesota and St. Louis each made the playoffs this season but lost in the first round.

Jan. 6, 2022: New York Rangers at Vegas Golden Knights (Gerard Gallant returns to Vegas)

It’s sure to be an emotional night when Gallant returns to Vegas to coach against the Golden Knights for the first time since he was fired on Jan. 15, 2020. Gallant was hired by the Rangers on June 16 after not coaching in the NHL since last season. He was 118-75-20 in three seasons with Vegas, leading them to the playoffs in each, including the Stanley Cup Final in 2018. 

Feb. 26, 2022: Tampa Bay Lightning at Nashville Predators (Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series)

This will be the first regular-season outdoor game for the Lightning and second for the Predators, who played in the 2020 NHL Winter Classic in Dallas. The game will take place at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. The Lightning won six of eight games against the Predators this season when the teams played in the Discover Central Division. Next season, they will play twice.

March 3, 2022: Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks (Duncan Keith returns to Chicago)

Keith has played all of his 1,192 NHL games with the Blackhawks but will be an opponent of theirs for the first time in his 17th NHL season when Edmonton hosts Chicago on Nov. 20. He will return to United Center a few months later. The defenseman, who was traded to the Oilers on July 12, helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup three times (2010, 2012, 2015) and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2015. He is second in Blackhawks history in games, sixth in assists (520) and 10th in points (625).

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