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Tuesday's Top Ten: Games to Look Forward To

Another week brings about another edition of "Tuesday's Top Ten." As you may know, last week I took a look back at the ten best games the Hurricanes played last season. This week continues with the same theme, but in a different way. Instead of looking backward, we must now look forward. As painful as last season's ending was, it only brings that much more anticipation and excitement into a new season of NHL hockey here in Raleigh, NC.

This week, as we push through preseason hockey and training camps - molding the frame of the 2011-12 Carolina Hurricanes - we can only speculate about the upcoming season. Which games will be the "must-see" games? Which games will be duds? Which games do you need to reschedule your wedding day, family vacation, or business retreat in order just to watch on TV? Well, fear no more, because hopefully this list presents the answer to some of those questions.

Without further ado, here is the Top Ten Games to Look Forward to for 2011-12!


10. October 28, 2011 - vs. Chicago Blackhawks

This will be the Chicago Blackhawks first visit to the RBC Center since January 30, 2010. That night featured one of the most entertaining games and one of the most spectacular performances from Cam Ward. It also featured less than 7,000 people in the stands due to a bad ice storm. For the people that were at the game, it was well worth it. The Hurricanes defeated the Hawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Ward, but Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup. Hopefully this visit will feature all of the same intensity shown on that unique night and the result (a win for the Canes) might stay the same as well.

9. December 31, 2011 - @ Tampa Bay Lightning

It's kind of a bummer that the New Years Eve Game this season will be an away one. It's also kind of a bummer that the Canes are a measly 2-4 in their past six New Year's Eve Games. But that shouldn't stop Caniacs from welcoming in the New Year together after a chilly, snow-covered tailgate. The game starts at 5 p.m. so there will certainly be plenty of time after the game ends before Ryan Seacrest helps America count down the ball in Times Square (or the Acorn in Raleigh, whichever your cup of tea may be). Hopefully Hurricanes fans will have a solid win and a good start to the season to celebrate to help ring in the new year. 

8. Oct 22, 2011 - @ Winnipeg Jets

This will be the Hurricanes first visit to the MTS Centre and their first regular season matchup with the Winnipeg Jets since 1996 when Keith Tkachuk and Teemu Selanne downed the Hartford Whalers 5-2. Now the teams are division rivals (at least for this season) and will meet for the first time ever as "Jets vs. Hurricanes." It will certainly be a bit of a culture shock for those watching on TV or in the stands to see Eric Staal skate alongside a player in a Jets jersey or to hear John Forslund and Chuck Kaiton say, "Skinner crosses the Jets line." But the Jets are back and from the looks of things so far, they are hear to stay. So this will be just the first visit for the Canes to Winnipeg, but it won't be the last.

7. March 24, 2012 - @ Detroit Red Wings

It's always fun to watch two teams from a previous Stanley Cup Final go at it. Teams never lose that hatred for one another and fans will never forgive another team for stealing a championship away from them and their team. Hurricanes fans will always bitterly remember Igor Larionov scoring in triple overtime to end Game 3, Brendon Shanahan tormenting a franchise he once played for, and Scotty Bowman lacing up some skates to take a lap with Lord Stanley in his final game coaching. Beating the Red Wings is always just a little bit sweeter than beating anyone else in the league because, though it may mean nothing, it's a sample taste of revenge. 

6. December 7, 2011 - @ Edmonton Oilers

It's always fun to watch two teams from a previous Stanley Cup Final go at it. Wait, that seems way too familiar... Anyway, this time it will always be the Oilers who are itching at a chance to exact some revenge. The Hurricanes beat them in Game 7 in 2006 even though the Oilers had won two straight games in the serious. The Oilers were trying to win for the first time without a guy named Gretzky or Messier on the team and the Canes were trying to carry their regular-season success over into their first championship ever. Ever since that night in early June, the series between these two teams has been back and forth. The teams have split wins in the five matches since (Hurricanes scores listed first), 1-3, 7-2, 1-3, 2-4, 7-1. 

5. October 12, 2011 - vs. Boston Bruins

Finally, back to some home games! This will be the first matchup of the season between the Canes and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. It's always a tough task to defend a Cup title and it will be interesting to see how the Bruins respond to the pressure (they haven't faced it in over 30 years). It will also be interesting to see Tomas Kaberle face off against his former team, while Joe Corvo comes to town to what one would expect to be a less-than-hospitabile home crowd. Kaberle didn't last long in Boston, but Corvo was a fixture of the Hurricanes defense for several seasons and his sudden demand... excuse me, "soft request"  for a trade came as a shock to some. Usually when players express a desire be traded away, it doesn't sit well with management, former teammates, or the fans. With so many story lines involved, this has the potential to be a great game.

4. November 23, 2011 - vs. Montreal Canadiens 

The Return of Erik Cole... Part II.

It's like deja vu all over again for Erik Cole and the Hurricanes. This time is slightly different though as he left fans with a bad taste in their mouths. Cole spurned the Canes offer for bigger money and a longer contract with Montreal over the summer and this game marks his return to the RBC Center. In Part I of this story, Cole returned home wearing an Oilers jersey after a summer trade left him in Edmonton. The fanbase was happy to get Joni Pitkanen, but upset at GM Jim Rutherford and the rest of management for letting Cole go. Now the hard feelings at against Cole. It will be a surprise to me if Cole is booed, but I'm sure he won't be emphatically cheered either. Either way, it will be fun to see who gets to cover Cole and how he responds to coming back to Raleigh.

3. April 7, 2012 - @ Florida Panthers

The Hurricanes will end the season in Florida, taking on the Panthers in Game 82. This may end up being a meaningless game because Carolina has already wrapped up their fourth Southeast Division Championship (one can hope) or because the playoff race is over, but - and I mean BUT - Hurricanes fans know that the last game of the season can certainly matter. The Canes ended the season last year with a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. That game was the second such letdown in the past four seasons. Florida also handed the Canes a season-ending loss in the final game of the year in 2008, defeating the Hurricanes 4-3. If the Canes could have won either of those two games, they would have been in the playoffs. So it's never too early to say that every game matters - even the last one!

2. November 12, 2011 - vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Come on, we all know why. The Canes don't like the Penguins. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and the whole gang come to town in mid-November and they are sure to bring a couple thousand of their closest fans with them. When the Penguins come to play at the RBC Center, they seem to attract a huge fan following. Wether it be people who have moved here from the Pittsburgh area, people traveling here and staying with family, or simply girls who are in love with Crosby or Kris Letang, the RBC Center is allows overflowing with Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys. 

That being said, it's always a little more fun to, not only watch the teams battle on the ice, but to also do a little jarring (responsibly, of course) with opposing fans around you. Victory seems a little sweeter and defeat stings a lot more. The fans know that and the players know it too. No player was proud of being swept out of the playoffs at the hands of the Pens and they not only play to win, but also play for respect.

1. October 7, 2011 - vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Opening Night and it cannot come soon enough. As previously mentioned, such a stinging loss to end the season was awful and an extremely tough pill to swallow at the time. However, that loss has made this team and it's fans hungrier than ever. Everyone can't wait for the season to start and the journey of an NHL team to begin. Sports is the only true "reality TV" because it can't get any more real than live sports. Everyone in attendance on opening night will be pumped up and have more electricity flowing through them than Duke and Progress Energy combined. 

Opening Nights are always special because it's the first time the team plays together for a game that counts. It's the beginning of their long road together. It's always cool for fans because of the extra measures that the team goes through to add effects. A few more fog machines and some extra special effects can go a long way in presentation. I, for example, am a big fan of introducing the players and having them line up on the blue line one-by-one. 

As the fans wait for that first goal to be scored or that first big save to be made, they can't help but wonder, is this the year? Could this be the year they win it all? Why not, anything can happen. That's why we love hockey!