|(Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks)
The 2015-16 regular-season schedule has been released, giving the Blackhawks and their fans a look at the difficult road to defending the Stanley Cup. Here are a few highlights from next season’s schedule:
Wednesday, Oct. 7: In the very first game of the 2015-16 NHL slate, the Blackhawks will open their season at home against the New York Rangers, but the game may be a secondary story on that night. Prior to puck drop, the Blackhawks will add their sixth Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters at the United Center. If the celebration from 2013 is any indication, this will be an unforgettable occasion.
Friday, Oct. 9: Just two days later, the Blackhawks will play at the NHL’s newest stadium, the Barclays Center. The New York Islanders have moved about 30 miles west from Nassau Coliseum -- where they’ve played since 1972 -- to Brooklyn, New York. This game is the Islanders’ home opener, so fans can expect a raucous atmosphere.
Saturday, Oct. 24: With memories from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final likely still fresh in the minds of both teams, the Blackhawks will welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning back to the United Center. The Lightning will again begin the season with Stanley Cup aspirations, and they’ll likely bring back a very similar lineup featuring captain Steven Stamkos, the Triplets line, goaltender Ben Bishop and breakout star from the playoffs, Victor Hedman.
Monday, Oct. 26: Two nights later, the United Center will host another playoff rematch when the Anaheim Ducks come to town. The Blackhawks and Ducks played an epic seven-game series in the Western Conference Finals that was very evenly played until the Blackhawks’ dominant effort in Game 7. The Ducks should be another early favorite to win the Stanley Cup, and they'll be out for revenge against the team that ended their season in May.
Wednesday, Nov. 18-Saturday, Nov. 28: The Blackhawks will kick off their longest road trip of the year in Edmonton and wrap up the six-game trip in Los Angeles 10 days later, taking the traditional route through Pacific Division territory. Along the way, the Blackhawks will take on Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim.
Tuesday, Jan. 5: Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby will square off in consecutive games, starting at CONSOL Energy Center on Jan. 5. The very next night, the same two teams will meet at the United Center. The Blackhawks beat the Penguins twice last season, both narrow shootout victories, so expect a highly competitive atmosphere that begins with two of the most respected captains in the NHL.
Sunday, Feb. 21: For the third straight season and fourth time in franchise history, the Blackhawks will take things outside. The Minnesota Wild will host the Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium -- the home of the University of Minnesota football team -- in one of two Stadium Series games. The Blackhawks are 1-2 all-time outside, while Minnesota will be playing in its first outdoor game in franchise history.
Sunday, March 6: Diehard Blackhawks fans will want to circle this date. The once-hated division rival Detroit Red Wings will make their only trip to the United Center four days after welcoming the Blackhawks to Joe Louis Arena. Now that these two teams only play twice a year, the Original Six rivalry may be less intense on the ice, but the same can't be said for the stands.
Thursday, April 7: The home portion of the regular-season schedule will end with a Central Division tilt against the St. Louis Blues. By this time, fans will know if the Blues were able to put a disappointing first-round exit in the rearview mirror, but no matter what the division standings are, the two teams can always be expected to leave everything out on the ice. The season finale is two days later in Columbus.