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Plenty of great matchups, events on 2009-10 schedule

by Bob Condor /
Seems like it might be hard to follow an NHL season that ended with a final-second sprawling save in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final -- on a shot by the defending champion's perennial All-Star captain, no less. However, a first detailed look at the NHL's 2009-10 regular-season schedule shows the League is more than up to the task.

Where to start?

Let's agree Fenway Park on Jan. 1, where the hometown Boston Bruins and Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Tim Thomas will host the 2010 Bridgestone/NHL Winter Classic against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers. Now in its third year, the outdoor game is a must-see on the world's sports calendar.

The NHL schedule starts out as strong as fresh legs on perfectly sharpened skates. Opening night, Thursday, Oct. 1, features four games, including a Canadian twin bill -- Montreal at Toronto followed by Vancouver at Calgary -- plus Alex Ovechkin in Boston and Colorado hosting the San Jose Sharks as the Avalanche will retire Joe Sakic's number.

Then comes the Premiere Games in Europe on Oct. 2-3. In Stockholm, the Detroit Red Wings and captain Nicklas Lidstrom (who just missed sending Game 7 of the 2009 Final into overtime) will get back to Mission Stanley Cup against the young, rejuvenated St. Louis Blues in a pair of regular-season games. In Helsinki, the Florida Panthers go back-to-back against the Chicago Blackhawks, who added big-time scorer Marian Hossa on July 1 and named a new GM, Stan Bowman, with an old hockey name this week.

Oct. 3 will be a busy night in North America, too. All 30 teams will be in action (you can check out your team's game-by-game schedule here).

One Oct. 3 highlight figures to be John Tavares' home debut as a New York Islander against -- loud stick tapping, please -- Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup champ Pittsburgh Penguins. Sid, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and the rest of the Pens will travel to Long Island after raising the Stanley Cup banner the night before in a home opener against the New York Rangers and big-name free agent Marian Gaborik.

Oct. 3 has even more to offer. The New Jersey Devils open that night against the Flyers. The starting Devils goalie is likely to be Martin Brodeur, who will mark his 1,000th regular-season game. The only other goaltender to reach four figures is, you guessed it, Patrick Roy (1,029 games). What's more, Brodeur looks to make his 15th straight opening-night start, breaking the record of the great Terry Sawchuk and, naturally, Roy.

Whew, that's just the opening weekend. The rest of the season is just as fast-paced, including many tasty returns of former star players, one historic birthday party and the League's longest-ever road trip among many attractions. And, oh yeah, a two-week break for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In the second week, Hossa returns to Detroit on Oct. 8 while new Philadelphia defenseman Chris Pronger plays his only game of the year against his former Anaheim Ducks teammates.

November spotlights Detroit at Toronto in the Hockey Hall of Fame Game on Nov. 7 followed two nights later by HHOF induction ceremonies for Red Wings legend and current executive Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull and Lou Lamoriello.

On Dec. 4, the Boston Bruins head up to Montreal to play the rival Canadiens on the 100th birthday of the storied franchise. Later in the month, new Habs coach -- and former Panthers GM Jacques Martin -- returns to Florida for the first time, then two days later, on Jan. 2, another Jacques, Lemaire this time, visits Minnesota, where he coached the Wild for nine seasons before taking the job in New Jersey this week.

After an epic (and the word is not indulgently used) seven-game playoff series between Washington and Pittsburgh this past spring, the first 2009-10 meeting between Ovie and Sid is Jan. 21 at what figures to one rocking Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.

Nine days later, Jan. 30, Roberto Luongo and his Vancouver Canucks play a road game at Toronto. Ho-hum, no big deal, right? Not exactly. That Leafs game is the start of a record 14-game road trip prompted by the Winter Olympics setting up shop, rink and international clamor in Vancouver.

The last game before the Olympic Break is Valentine's Day and first game after the flame goes out is March 1. For those of you optimists planning for the postseason -- you know who you are and, hey, why not? -- the last game of the regular season is Sunday, April 11.

Here's your link to the 2009-10 regular season schedule month-by-month. Who says Christmas doesn't come in July?

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