NHL schedule: Lightning to raise banner Jan. 13

NHL

The NHL’s condensed 2020-21 season will begin on Jan. 13, with the Tampa Bay Lightning raising their Stanley Cup banner before hosting the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Lightning-Blackhawks tilt is one of five opening-night games for the NHL, with the slate also featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Philadelphia Flyers, the Montreal Canadiens at the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks at the Edmonton Oilers and the St. Louis Blues at the Colorado Avalanche.

The No. 1 pick of the 2020 draft, Alexis Lafreniere, will get to make his New York Rangers debut on Jan. 14 at Madison Square Garden against the rival New York Islanders. The NHL says it will announce game times and broadcast details at a later date.

All NHL teams will play only 56 games this season, and the regular season will consist solely of divisional play — in an effort to reduce travel. The NHL also temporarily re-aligned into four divisions, including an all-Canadian group, which was necessary since the U.S. and Canada border remains closed to essential business due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new schedule allows for “baseball style” homestands with teams playing multiple times before leaving town. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are scheduled to play each other for five games in a row between April 20 and May 1. Another highlight: Brady Tkachuk (Ottawa Senators) will face off against brother Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames) five times in an 11-day span, between Feb. 25 and March 7.

The regular season will conclude on May 8, with 30 of the league’s 31 teams in action.

There is a game scheduled every night between Jan. 13 and May 8, meaning 116 consecutive days of hockey.

The NHL’s playoffs will also be different this year, as there won’t be a typical Eastern Conference and Western Conference champion. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with intradivisional play making up the first two rounds. The league is aiming to award the Stanley Cup in the first two weeks of July.

The NHL is aiming for all teams to play in their home arenas, though the league is still awaiting official clearance from the Canadian government that would affect several markets. The San Jose Sharks are opening their training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, due to the Santa Clara County’s ban on contact sports, which runs through at least Jan. 8.

Most arenas will open without fans, though the NHL hopes to gradually integrate more fans as states loosen restrictions. The Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes have all said they plan to open their seasons with fans in limited capacity.

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