After two shortened seasons, the NHL is going back to their normal 82-game schedule in 2021-22. The last two seasons have been anything but “normal’’ for all involved with the season being paused in March of 2020 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, to the playoff bubbles that same summer, finally to the 56-game shortened season that involved realigned divisions to limit travel in 2020-21.
As the Boston Bruins return to the friendly confines of the Atlantic Division this season, it also brings back some rivalries that they did not face last season. With a new 82-game season ready to kick off on Oct. 16, let’s take a look at 10 must-watch Bruins games for this upcoming season.
Oct. 16 – vs. Dallas Stars
The season opener will take place at the TD Garden and will give fans the first look at a Bruins team that underwent some turnover. David Krejci was the biggest name that left this offseason, choosing to continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic. Tuukka Rask is still a free agent and the reigns will be turned over to Jeremy Swayman and free-agent Linus Ullmark. Rask, who is recovering from offseason hip surgery, could sign and join the team near the midway point of the season.
Opening night will also be the first game wearing the Spoked-B in a regular-season game for Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek, and Derek Forbort, all of who signed with Boston in free agency.
Oct. 30 – vs. Florida Panthers
Three nights after playing in Florida, the two teams will play in Boston and it will be the return of Joe Thornton to Boston. Selected first overall in the 1997 Entry Draft by the Bruins, Thornton signed a one-year, $750,000 contract to play his 24th season with the Panthers. Florida’s other trip into the TD Garden is on April 26.
Over the last couple of seasons, the Panthers have been building a roster that is ready to be a contender and they will be tough to play against. Former Boston College goalie Spencer Knight and Sergei Bobrovsky will be tough to score on, while MacKenzie Weegar anchors the defense.
Nov. 6 – @ Toronto Maple Leafs
After not playing the Maple Leafs last season, the Bruins get their first look at them on the road this season. Last season marked the first time, excluding the 1994-95 lockout, that the Bruins and Maple Leafs did not play a regular-season game. Auston Matthews won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Award in 2020-21 with 41 goals, but Toronto continued to struggle in the playoffs, losing their first-round series in seven games to the Montreal Canadiens after holding a 3-1 series lead.
Nov. 14 – vs. Montreal Canadiens
Excluding the 2004-05 lockout, last season was the first season the Bruins and Canadiens did not play a game in the regular season, which is hard to believe. After struggling through their 56-game Canadian Division schedule, they made up for it once the playoff came around advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
They dispatched the Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Vegas Golden Knights to reach the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Montreal has one of the good young players in the NHL in Cole Caulfield, who is fun to watch.
Dec. 4 – vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
An under-the-radar rivalry was brewing before the 2020 season pause between the Bruins and Lightning, who each took turns finishing on top in the Atlantic Division. After not playing last season, they will hook up this season in four battles, with the first at the TD Garden.
The two-time Stanley Cup champions lost some pieces, including their whole third line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow, but they still have Andrei Vasilevskiy in the net. To win the division, this may be the Bruins’ biggest obstacle in 2021-22.
Dec. 8 – @ Vancouver Canucks
The Bruins return to the arena where they won Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to break their 39-year drought. A few of the names are the same for Boston, while the Canucks overhauled their roster this offseason to mix in with some good talent after missing the playoffs.
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Vancouver added Connor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes, while Quinn Hughes is one of the bright young defensemen in the league. Former Bruins backup goalie Jaroslav Halak signed this July as a free agent with the Canucks and would it surprise anyone if Vancouver coach Travis Green starts him in this game?
Dec. 23 – vs. Colorado Avalanche
Going into the season, the Avalanche are one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and this will be a good measuring stick game for the Bruins two nights before Christmas. Former University of Massachusetts standout Cale Makar, who signed a six-year, $54 million contract over the summer, anchors a good Colorado defense.
In one of the more surprising moves this offseason, goalie Phillipp Grubauer left in free agency to join the expansion Seattle Kraken. Last season, he went 30-9-1 for the Avalanche with a 1.95 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (SV%). The same day that Grubauer agreed to a contract with the Kraken, Colorado traded for Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes to be Grubauer’s replacement.
Feb. 2 – vs. Seattle Kraken
The NHL’s 32nd team that begins play this season makes their only appearance at the TD Garden in the final game before the Olympic break. In July, Seattle general manager Ron Francis selected Jeremy Lauzon as their first overall pick from the Bruins.
Following the Olympic break on Feb. 24, the Bruins begin the final two months of the regular season with a trip to Seattle, which kicks off a six-game road trip that includes stops against the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights, and Columbus Blue Jackets.
April 12 – vs. St. Louis Blues
When the Blues play their only regular-season game at the TD Garden, it marks the return of Torey Krug on defense after he left Boston in free agency in October of 2020 when he signed a seven-year, $45.5 million contract. Last season in 51 games, he had two goals and 30 assists in St. Louis, while logging a career-high 22:33 of time-on-ice.
This will be the second game in Boston for the Blues since winning Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup. The playoffs have not been too kind to St. Louis over the last two seasons as they have been eliminated in the first round. The two teams will have their second meeting seven days later in St. Louis.
April 29 – @ Toronto Maple Leafs
This is the last regular-season scheduled game for both teams and there could be a lot on the line in terms of the playoffs. Both teams are expected to battle things out this season in the Atlantic Division with the Lightning, Canadiens, and Panthers, making for a very intriguing season.
In reality, all 82 games will be worth watching, but these 10 games should be near the top of the list. It will be nice to have the Bruins back in the Atlantic Division, playing their Canadian foes, as well as teams from the Western Conference. Hockey is back to its normalcy in 2021-22.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.