It’s the Florida Panthers 20th anniversary season, and it should be a special one.
With that in mind, if you’ve had the chance to take a look at the just released 82-game 2013-14 schedule, at least one thing has to come to your mind about the season — it will certainly be a huge one.
The 2013-14 schedule features 27 home games that fall on either a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, so you really don’t have an excuse to miss out on some of the great games on the agenda.
Just to name a few, the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will be making a visit, as well as the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins, the Rangers, the Red Wings, the Canadiens…and the list goes on.
The Panthers are starting the season with a made-over Eastern Conference division, the Atlantic Division, that now includes the Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Red Wings, Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. Jonathan Huberdeau is fresh off his Rookie of the Year win, and the 2013 No. 2 draft pick Aleksander Barkov should be ready to make that impact we’ve all been waiting for. Add in players like Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, Drew Shore, and Quinton Howden, and the young talent is almost too impressive. Then throw in veterans like Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell, and it’s even more exciting.
There are so many games that you should look forward to this season. But if you could only watch five, which ones would you just have to see? Here’s just a few of your must-see matchups this season.
|Scott Clemmensen and Brian Campbell defend the net against Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz (Getty Images)
Florida vs. Pittsburgh, Friday Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
Panthers fans would kick themselves if they missed this matchup, taking place as the home opener to the Cats season and also the team’s 20th anniversary season celebration. If excitement wasn’t at an all-time high before, it certainly will be now, as the Panthers host last year’s Eastern Conference leader Pittsburgh Penguins in a recreation of the team’s 1993 inaugural home opener at Miami Arena. The Penguins’ stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will go up against Huberdeau, Barkov and the Panthers’ veterans. This game will most likely be the first opportunity for fans to see the Panthers in-person (unless you’re going to catch one of the first four road games to open the season) as the young guys come out feisty and the veterans come out well-rested and ready to play.
Florida vs. Chicago, Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
October is quite the month. Just five days after the Cats take on the Stanley Cup Runner-Up Boston Bruins at home, the Panthers will face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks at the BB&T Center. Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane will bring the Blackhawks at full force, who started out last season with a 24-game point streak. Now is the time for the Panthers to put up a good fight, since they will make their own trip to the windy city on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Florida @ Colorado, Saturday, Nov. 16 at 9 p.m.
The holiday season is just about to kick off and you might already have family in town. What better to do than watch some great hockey? Before Thanksgiving and the other holidays roll around, make sure to catch this first matchup between Colorado and Florida. The two teams had the first and second picks respectively in this year’s NHL draft, selecting Nathan MacKinnon at No. 1 and Barkov at No. 2 respectively. It will be a great watch to see these top-rated young forwards go head to head for the first time. There’s been a lot of hype about these two players, so this is the perfect opportunity to see what sticks. Plus it kicks off a busy week ahead as the Panthers get set to host three great games at the BB&T Center with Philadelphia (Mon. Nov 25), the NY Rangers (Wed. Nov 27) and Pittsburgh (Sat. Nov. 30) with Thanksgiving and Black Friday smacked in the middle of them.
Florida vs. Montreal, December 29 at 5 p.m.
The majority of your holiday celebrations have come to a close, and now it’s time to ring in the New Year. This is sure to be a massive home game for Panthers fans with a festive ambience in the arena as South Florida hosts the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens finished second in the Eastern Conference last season, and show promise with their own up and coming players, such as Brendan Gallagher, who finished second in votes behind Huberdeau for the Calder Trophy. Former Panther George Parros is now with the Canadiens as well, so how will his new team perform as he returns to Sunrise?
|Tomas Fleischmann skates with the puck against Tampa Bay's Martin St Louis (Getty Images)
Florida @ Tampa Bay, Thursday, March 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Is there ever not a good time to watch an in-state rivalry game? If you don’t get a chance to catch the Lightning against the Panthers at home in October or on the road at their place again in December, make sure to watch this third matchup with the two teams. With recently drafted No. 3 pick Jonathan Drouin, he could revitalize Tampa Bay as a true franchise player. Make sure to watch the Panthers take on our “friends” up the road, and see how the young talent goes up against each other once again. It might even be worth the short 4-hour trek up to Tampa to help represent the visiting Panthers.
Now, just because those are five we pointed out, don’t think you can fall asleep the rest of the season. Other notable home matchups include during Thanksgiving week (which we mentioned earlier) with games against the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and Penguins. After the Christmas holiday, the Panthers host the Detroit Red Wings, the Canadiens and the Rangers once again. And that’s not to mention spring break hockey, which includes 17 games with eight at home in the month of March, the busiest month on the 2013-14 calendar.
So make the trip out to the arena and check out the brand new state-of-the-art scoreboard — but most importantly — be there for some great hockey.
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