Feb. 17, 2012: Sunrise, FL, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) and Florida Panthers right wing Kris Versteeg (32) both chat before a face-off during the first period at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Next Season's Top 5 Must See Home Games

October 17, 2011; Tampa FL, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) and Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ryan Malone (12) fight during the first period at St. Pete Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

It seemed like just yesterday when the Los Angeles Kings were celebrating in the streets of L.A, as they were able to win their first Stanley Cup trophy in franchise history. While a lot of hockey fans were happy for the Kings, those same fans were also quite upset because it meant that the 2011-2012 NHL season was finally over. Last season was an exciting season for professional hockey. Multiple different franchises were able to come out of droughts. The Phoenix Coyotes and the Florida Panthers both were able to win their respective division for the first time in their history, while as previously mentioned; the Kings were able to win the cup for the first time. Last year also saw the rise of many different young players such as, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Quick, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Last year also saw the return of superstar Sidney Crosby and Jaromir Jagr.

While last season had a lot of surprising teams and players rise to greatness, everyone needs a little bit of a break from the game. After a month off from hockey, I, along with many other people am ready for the regular season to start. Unfortunately for us, we still have to wait a bit until the season begins. The season is just under three months away. Although it seems distant, it is really right around the corner. With the schedule being released a couple of weeks ago; every hockey fan is highly anticipating the first game of the season. When the schedule was first released, I immediately began looking at what kind of matchups the Panthers received for the season. A lot of games stood out; however, these are the top five home games that stood out to me the most.

Number Five: Mon, December 31st vs. the New York Rangers

The Florida Panthers will play the New York Rangers on New Year’s Eve at home with a six PM start time… Need I say more? Last season the New York Rangers were one of the hottest teams in the league, winning the Atlantic Division. They were also the first team to qualify for the postseason. Sadly for New York fans, the team was eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals. Even though they couldn’t quite win it all last year, they have a great chance at the cup in this up and coming season and are heavily favored to make it back to the cup for the first time since the 93-94 season. The Panthers will have their hands full on New Year’s, but with the abundance of New Yorkers here in South Florida and with the revamped Florida franchise, the Bank Atlantic Center will be the place to be New Year’s Eve if you are a fan of hockey.

Number Four: Sat, April 13th vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins

This game is a tricky one. It can either help dictate the Panthers playoff positioning, or it could be the final game of the season. Whatever the case may be, playing the Penguins is also a fun matchup. The Panthers get to face Sidney Crosby, reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin, and the now All-Star goalie, Marc Andre Fluery, that was drafted with what was the Panthers pick in the 03 Draft before the cats traded it to Pittsburgh. Panther fans are hoping that this isn’t the final time we will get to see them next year. We all want this game to help determine our playoff position, but if it truly the final game of the season, it will definitely be an exciting one as the Panthers take on one of the most exciting teams in hockey.

Number Three: Thu, November 29 vs. the Washington Capitals

Whenever the Capitals come to town to play the Panthers, I always try to go. While this game has no real significance, it is still the Washington Capitals and as we all know, the Capitals are one of the Panthers biggest rival. This is not the first time the Panthers will play the Capitals next season, however, it is the first time the Capitals come to South Florida. The Capitals, led by one of the most exciting players in the world, Alexander Ovechkin is always a fun matchup for the Panthers. And also, who doesn’t enjoy watching their favorite team take on a big rival for the first time at home?

Number Two: Thu, December 13th vs. the New Jersey Devils

Even though this game is not number one on my list, I could easily make this number one. Last season as we all know, the New Jersey Devils defeated the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs. A lot of fans have this game circled, highlighted, and colored in on their calendars. This game is huge. While a lot of fans accepted the loss last season and were happy with what the Panthers have accomplished, many fans hatred for the Devils grew even higher. No matter what the case is, this game is easily one of the biggest games of the year. This is the first home game that the Panthers will get to face the Devils next season. We fans understand that it is impossible to win every hockey game and we understand when the Panthers lose a game… BUT if the fans ever wanted a victory, it would be this game. No one who has anything to do with the Panthers wants them to lose this game. Whether it’s the players, the fans, or the people who sell food at the concession stands, we all want the Panthers to be victorious on December 13th 2012!

Number One: Sat, October 13th vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning

This game is number one on my list because this is going to be one of the best nights in the history of the Florida Panthers. Before the game the Florida Panthers will have their 2011-2012 division championship banner raised. For the Panthers, not too many banners have been raised. This banner that is being raised is special; because it is the first time the Panthers have won the division. There is going to be a lot of excitement and buzz going around. If the Panthers can pull off a victory in this matchup, the fans will blow the roof off of the BAC. No matter what the outcome of the game is, fans, players, and Panther executives can all still be proud as they get to show off a new piece of material that will be hanging in the rafters above.

So there ya have it, my top five home games that are a must see. Hopefully the Panthers can continue to be successful as they attempt to make their way back into the postseason for the second straight year.

Thanks For Reading!

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Tags: Alexander Ovechkin Atlantic Division Evgeni Malkin Florida Panthers Jaromir Jagr Jonathan Quick. Marc-andre Fluery MVP New Jersey Devils New York Rangers Nhl Phoenix Coyotes Pittsburgh Penguins Ryan Nugent-hopkins Sidney Crosby Tampa Bay Lightning Washington Capitals

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