NHL 2021 Season: Biggest Games Kicking off This Weekend

The 2021 NHL season has arrived, and all 31 teams are on a mission to secure the Stanley Cup. This year's iteration will play out differently considering that there are only 56 games in the shortened schedule due to COVID-19, but teams such as the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils will have the opportunity to unseat the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Here are some of the biggest matchups of the weekend.

The season officially began on Wednesday and Thursday, but several teams got back in action on Saturday and into Sunday. The Detroit Red Wings host the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 p.m. ET while the Columbus Blue Jackets visit the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. Saturday's slate also includes the Las Vegas Golden Knights vs. Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET), Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames (10 p.m. ET) and Minnesota Wild vs. LA Kings (9 p.m. ET).

There are only two games on Sunday, but both feature some popular franchises. The Washington Capitals kick off the day's schedule with a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The puck will drop shortly after 12 p.m. ET. The Florida Panthers will then round out the weekend by hosting the Chicago Blackhawks in a game set for 7 p.m. ET. This late-Sunday game will serve as the first of the season for the Panthers.

One team that is not in action as expected resides in Texas. The NHL announced that the Dallas Stars had several people test positive for the coronavirus, days prior to the start of the season. The first three games were postponed, resulting in the Stars not officially beginning the season until Jan. 19. The first game will be against the Lightning.

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Prior to the new year, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that the league would incorporate a shorter season while placing an emphasis on player health and safety. The regular season started on Jan. 13 and will continue until May 8. The playoffs will then take place shortly after the end of the regular season with the Stanley Cup being awarded in July.

"The players are pleased to have finalized agreements for the upcoming season, which will be unique but also very exciting," NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said in December. "During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much-needed entertainment as the players return to the ice." The league also clarified that there would be no preseason prior to the games that count in the record books.