SUNRISE, Fla. - It won't be long before hockey is back in South Florida.
On Thursday the Florida Panthers, in conjunction with the NHL, unveiled their schedule for the 2017-18 regular season. Undoubtedly the team and their fans are yearning for a chance to get back into the playoffs after a challenging 2016-17.
The Panthers schedule for this upcoming season contains many exciting dates with big stars and rival opponents, but some stand out amongst the rest.
With that in mind, here are seven key matchups for the Panthers in the upcoming season. Don't forget to circle your calendar!
1. Friday, October 6th @ Tampa Bay
The Panthers come right out of the gate and kick off their season against their intrastate rival the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. The Cats had a 2-1-1 record against the Bolts last season, and continued success against their divisional opponent will play a major factor in the Panthers quest to get back to the playoffs.
Video: FLA@TBL: Matheson nets first NHL goal for late lead
The Lightning and the Panthers battled their fair share of injuries last year and health will be a major factor coming into the first matchup. Players like Aleksander Barkov and Steven Stamkos should make this first game a fun one to watch.
2. Saturday October 7th vs. Tampa Bay
After the Panthers open the season in Tampa Bay, they'll travel back across Alligator Alley and are back in action the following night against the Lightning in their home opener at BB&T Center. The Panthers owned a 19-19-3 record on home ice last season, and the team will need that opening night energy from their fans to help them make BB&T Center a tough place to play for visiting teams.
3. Friday, October 20th vs. Pittsburgh
In the first month of the season, Florida will welcome the Stanley Cup Champions to BB&T Center for their first meeting of the season. The Cats will have to bring their A-game, as Sidney Crosby and the high-flying Pens are again primed to be one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers will be out to prove they can skate with the best, and Pittsburgh native Vincent Trocheck and company should be up for the challenge.
4. Saturday, November 25th vs. Chicago
The Panthers split their two-game set against the Blackhawks in 2016-17, but it was the latter of the two games that gave Panthers fans a hopeful glimpse into the heights the team could achieve.
The Panthers peppered the Hawks for seven goals that night and James Reimer made 25 saves between the pipes for his first shutout as a Panther.
Video: CHI@FLA: Reimer denies Panarin and Schmaltz in close
Florida's hungry, youthful lineup was able to dismantle a Blackhawks team that has been at the top of the NHL for the better part of the decade. When these two teams meet back at the site of arguably the best game of the Panthers 201-17 season, both teams will have something to prove.
5. Friday, January 19th vs. Vegas
Players and fans will have this date circled on their calendars. It will mark the first time in NHL history that the new Vegas Golden Knights expansion club will play at the BB&T Center.
It will be a night for fans to get a glimpse at the NHL's newest team. And expect some familiar faces to be in the building too, as Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant and forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith will make their return to BB&T.
The Cats will want to defend their all-time record for a first year NHL franchise, so expect the group to be motivated and come out with some swagger.
6. Saturday, March 17th vs. Edmonton
One of the most exciting talents in the NHL, Connor McDavid, will be playing for one night only at BB&T Center this season when he leads the Edmonton Oilers into South Florida in mid-March.
McDavid is one of the most electrifying players in the NHL today, but the Panthers will roll out their own squad of super-skilled players, led by Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad, to matchup against him. It promises to be a heavyweight tilt.
Expect the Panthers to play with a chip on their shoulder, since they lost two tough games last season to the Oilers.
7. Tuesday, April 3rd vs. Nashville
As the regular season winds down, another big name team comes to town. In early April the Panthers welcome the Western Conference Champion Nashville Predators to South Florida.
Some fans will recall that the Panthers fared well against the Nashvillians last season. In fact, the Predators were the first of five teams that the Panthers defeated during their historic five-game road trip sweep during February of last year.
Video: FLA@NSH: Huberdeau beats Saros from the right circle
That performance in Nashville was one of Roberto Luongo's best of the season and he'll look to match that level when the Preds come to town this season. Meanwhile the Cats will have every incentive to prove that Cats are still greater than Catfish.
Of course, these are just a few of the exciting dates in the Panthers schedule. For a list of all 82 regular season games the Panthers will play in, click HERE.
To download the Panthers 2017-18 schedule, click HERE.