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What to watch for: Key games and stretches for the Lightning in 2014-15

by Missy Zielinski / Tampa Bay Lightning

With the 2014-15 NHL schedule officially released Sunday, Lightning beat reporterMissy Zielinski takes a look at some key stretches and games for the Lightning during the 2014-15 campaign.

October 9, Bolts home/season opener:The Lightning did not wait long to show it was a team on the rise in a 7-2 win against the Florida Panthers during last year’s home opener. Now this time around the Bolts have a chance to extend their winning streak to five straight versus the Panthers as they open the 2014-15 campaign at home against their Atlantic Division rival. Captain Steven Stamkos has also displayed immense personal success versus Florida, including netting a hat trick in last season’s home opener.

November 15, Bolts host the Isles:Tampa Bay could not seem to figure out the New York Islanders in regulation last year, as all three contests went to a shootout. In the Lightning's first meeting with its Metropolitan Division foe in 2013-14, Valtteri Filppula helped string together a comeback for the Bolts, scoring a pair of goals in the last three minutes of play, including the game-tying tally with 3.8 seconds remaining in regulation. It is also hard to forget the NHL’s longest shootout of the season that capped-off the series between the two in March, as defenseman Sami Salo snuck one past netminder Evgeni Nabokov in the 13th round for a 3-2 win.

November 26, Rangers come to the Tampa Bay Times Forum:This game will easily top many lists as the most anticipated game of the 2014-15 season, featuring not only the Eastern Conference champions and Stanley Cup-runner-up New York Rangers, but former Lightning captain Martin St. Louis. St. Louis was traded to the Rangers on March 5th and skated in 44 games (including 25 postseason games) with the Blueshirts, recording 23 points.

January 6, Lightning return to the Bell Centre:Although the Bolts play the Montreal Canadiens five times in 2014-15, the first matchup between the two 2014 Stanley Cup playoff first-round opponents does not come until the beginning of 2015. The opening matchup of the season series will be played at the Bell Centre, where the Lightning’s postseason run came to a quick end in April. Despite the back-to-back losses to the Canadiens in Montreal in the playoffs, Tampa Bay went 3-0-1 (2-0 at the Bell Centre) during the regular season versus the Habs.

February 15-22, West Coast Road Swing: The Lightning entered its West Coast road trip on a high last season, winning nine of their past 11 games, including two without Steven Stamkos after breaking his leg. Yet the Bolts quickly came back down to reality against a stacked Pacific Division, where they were outscored by a combined margin of 17-6 and lost four straight. The Lightning will look to rebound against their West Coast foes this time around, facing the Stanley Cup Champions and three other teams (San Jose, Anaheim, Colorado) who were part of the 2014 postseason picture.

March 28-April 4, Bolts face Atlantic Division late:The last stretch of the regular season is never easy, but the Bolts will be on high alert at the end of March come the 2014-15 season. They will play five out of seven of their Atlantic Division opponents (Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Florida) in a span of eight days. It is also the Lightning’s last road trip of the year.

Other schedule notes:Tampa Bay’s longest homestand of the season is six games (March 14-26), while their longest road trip is five (multiple times)…The Lightning are slated to play 12 sets of back-to-back games, with 11 of the 12 sets being played away from the Times Forum…The Bolts play the Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens five times in 2014-15…Their first road trip of the year comes from October 18-25, as they embark on their Western Canada road trip (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg) and finish with a game in Minnesota versus the Wild.

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