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Top Offseason Stories To Watch: Balanced 2012-13 Schedule

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

If adversity is unfortunate enough to befall the Tampa Bay Lightning again during the upcoming 2012-13 regular season, at least this time around part of the cause won’t come as a result of playing an unbalanced schedule.

The National Hockey League unveiled the Bolts’ 82-game regular season slate last Thursday, and unlike last season, in which the team opened the year with 11 of its first 14 games on the road, the outlook to start the upcoming campaign appears to be both bright and balanced.

To kick off the Lightning’s commemorative 20th anniversary season, the team will open on the road for a one-game stint against the Panthers before returning to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where it will play nine of its first 13 games in front of the home fans.

While some cynics believe early games in October and November aren’t as critical to a team’s fate towards the end of a season as contests in March and April, the bulk of consecutive home games to open the season could bode well for a team that is coming off tying a single-season franchise-record 25 home wins in each of the past two seasons, not to mention help get the Bolts off to a fast start.

Tampa Bay’s longest home stand consists of six consecutive games from Mar. 7-18, against opponents such as Winnipeg, Montreal, Carolina, the Islanders, Phoenix and Philadelphia. They will also play four consecutive games at home from Nov. 6-13 and will, in addition, host three home stands consisting of three games each.

Working in the Lightning’s favor too, is that the club will not be forced to take any extended road trips, which makes for a nice change from last season, especially when considering the Bolts posted a 13-22-6 away from home in 2011-12. The team’s longest road trip will be four games, which they will play on three separate occasions; Nov. 25 through Dec. 1, Dec. 31 through Jan. 8 and Feb. 5-10. Tampa Bay will also have five trips consisting of three games, while it will play just a single road game seven times.

It will compete in 13 sets of back-to-back games though, with 10 of those involving both contests on the road, which as a result of the travel, could tax the players both physically and mentally.

Overall, the schedule also promises to be advantageous for the fans too, as those attending the home opener on Oct. 16 versus the New York Islanders can expect to witness Lightning captain and fan-favorite Vincent Lecavalier compete in his milestone 1,000th career NHL game. The team’s new high-definition, $5 million Daktronics scoreboard, a privately funded upgrade by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, will also make its debut the same night.

As an added bonus, the Lightning will celebrate their 20th anniversary season throughout the 2012-13 campaign, providing several enhanced experiences for fans to enjoy such as sharing their own personal memories and voting on their favorite all-time Bolts players and moments.

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