Originally written on Shutdown Line  |  Last updated 1/13/13
Now that the lockout is officially over and the NHL is ready to begin an abbreviated 48-game season. As one would expect, the schedule is going to be jam packed this year with lots of back-to-back games and home-and-home series' to help the league get 48 games in before the end of April. Because the season is starting to late, the trade deadline is being pushed back to April 3rd and the season will end on April 27th instead of the beginning of the month per usual. It isn't ideal, but beggers can't be choosers at this point and I'm sure the fans are just happy to have the NHL back in general. Teams finally released their schedules last night, so now we know what lies ahead for the Hurricanes and everyone else. The most important thing to remember in this shortened year is that every single games means so much more than it does in a full 82-game year. There are always stretches of games where teams go through rough patches and while not much is thought of them during a full season, it could end up being the difference in a team making the playoffs or not this year. This is something the Hurricanes really need to take note of because historically, this team has gotten off to poor starts and they really can't afford to have it happen again this year if they want to make the playoffs. The fact that most of the players on the team are going to be playing their first games in over seven months starting next week isn't going to help matters either, but the good news is that the Hurricanes aren't the only team facing that predicament. There are a few places on the Hurricanes schedule that fans should keep in mind, because the team could potentially get an upper-hand or fall behind the rest of the division depending on how they perform. The Canes are going to be thrown into the fire early on in the season with a six-game, 10-day road trip which includes two games against the Philadelphia Flyers, who beat the Canes in three of four meetings last year. They will also play the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders in this road trip. The good news is that there is only one back-to-back set of games in the road trip and they won't have to do that much traveling between cities. Still, playing on the road is tough and the Canes will have to make sure they come out of this relatively unscathed. March is going to be a very important month for Carolina. The Canes will have two home-and-home series' against divisional opponents on the 2nd and 3rd (Florida) and the 12th & 14th (Washington) as well as a few back-to-back divisional games during the month. A good chunk of this team's schedule will be played within the Southeast Division and getting these wins will go a long way if they want to clinch a playoff spot and home-ice advantage in the playoffs. I already talked about how Carolina needs to be better in divisional play and it appears that they are really going to be put to the test during March. A couple other games of note on the schedule is the team's first showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 28th, which will be Brandon Sutter's return to Carolina and Jordan Staal's first game against his former team. I expect Sutter to get a good reaction from the crowd at PNC Arena. I'm not sure how the reaction will be for Staal when the Canes go to Pittsburgh on April 27th, which will be the last game of the regular season for Carolina. Let's hope that won't be the last game of the season for the Hurricanes because there are higher expectations for them than usual this year.  Whether or not they make it in will likely depend on how many points they gain during the stretches of games noted above. It all begins this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. when the Hurricanes take on the Florida Panthers on the road. Carolina's first home game is the following Tuesday at 7 p.m. against the Tampa Bay Lightning. I'm sure that both of those dates can not come soon enough for Carolina fans as the season is finally just around the corner.  
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