By David Dwork

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SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – The Florida Panthers are considered by many as a team on the rise, and the upcoming season is bringing high expectations along with it.

Florida finished the 2017-18 schedule as the league’s best team during the second half of the season.

After a rough start under new head coach Bob Boughner, the Panthers quickly got on the same page and the results speak for themselves.

Now Florida heads toward a new season with a clean slate and plans to re-claim the Atlantic Division title they won just two years ago.

On Thursday the NHL released the full schedule for the 2018-19 season.

For the second straight year, Florida will play their first game in Tampa Bay on October 6th.

Six of the Panthers nine games in October are on the road, but things even out a bit in November with eight games at the BB&T Center.

Starting in mid-March, Florida plays a stretch of eight out of 10 on the road before closing the season with a three-game homestand.

One big change this season are that the start time for almost every home game has been changed to 7 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m., which had been the norm for years.

According to the team, change is to “enhance the overall game experience for families and our fans, including pre and post-game activities. This was a decision we spent a lot of time and consideration on and took into account fan feedback, which we weighed heavily.”

The Panthers experimented with 7 p.m. start times last season, but only on weekends.

The team attributes “countless surveys and other fan conversations” that were “in favor of the change” as the main reason for the new start time.

It’s worth noting that last season 22 of the NHL’s 31 teams started weekday home games at 7 p.m.

To see the full Panthers schedule, click here.

SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN

Florida plays 28 games within the Atlantic Division this season with four games (two home and two away) against the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Panthers will play 24 games against teams from the Metropolitan Division and 30 games (one home and one away) against the Western Conference.

HOCKEY NIGHTS IN SOUTH FLORIDA

The Cats will host a season-high 14 home games on Saturday this season, five on Sunday, three on Monday, four on Tuesday, one on Wednesday, eight on Thursday and five on Friday.

SUNSHINE SHOWDOWN

Opening the season on the road against their cross-state rivals in Tampa Bay (Oct. 6), the Panthers will face the Lightning at Amalie Arena once more on Nov. 21 before hosting them in South Florida for their final two regular season match-ups, on Dec. 1, and Feb. 10.

HELLO FINLAND!

The Cats will face the Winnipeg Jets in two match-ups at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland, on Thursday, Nov. 1 and Friday, Nov. 2 as part of the NHL Global Series.

Florida will serve as the ‘home team’ on Nov. 1 and the ‘road team’ for Nov. 2.

LONG ROAD TRIP, LONGER HOMESTAND

Florida’s season-high six-game road trip is followed by the club’s season-high eight-game home stand. Over the Panthers stretch of six road games from Nov. 13-23 they will visit Philadelphia, Columbus, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Carolina.

The Panthers eight-game home stand from Nov. 24-Dec. 8 marks the longest stretch of home games the Panthers will play this season. Over the season-high eight-game home stand, the Panthers will host Chicago, New Jersey, Anaheim, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Boston, Colorado, and NY Rangers.

DEFENDING THE TERRITORY

Starting on January 21, Florida will play 12 of 13 games at the BB&T Center (a 5-game homestand followed by a 7-game homestand, separated by a brief trip to face defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington).

The month of February holds the most home games for the Panthers in the 2018-19 season. The Cats will play 11 of their 15 games at BB&T Center.

CELEBRATING 25 YEARS

In honor of the Panthers 25th anniversary season, each Friday and Saturday home game of the season will celebrate the history of the franchise with ‘Flashback Fridays’ and ‘Legacy Saturdays’.

Stay tuned to FloridaPanthers.com/promotions for more information.

BEER ME

Back by popular demand, each Thursday home game of the season will be ‘$5 Beer Thursdays’.

THEME NIGHTS

Major Panthers theme and promotional nights this season will include the return of fan favorites like Star Wars Night, Panther Conservation Night, Military Appreciation Night, Pride Night, Kids Takeover Night, as well as Hockey Fights Cancer Night and more.

NEW START TIMES / MATINEE MATCH-UPS

All Panthers home games will begin at 7 P.M. with the exception of five weekend games: Sunday, Nov. 11 vs. Ottawa (5 P.M.), Sunday, Feb. 10 vs. Tampa Bay (6 P.M.), Saturday, Feb. 23 vs. Los Angeles (5 P.M.), Sunday, March 3 vs. Ottawa (5 P.M.) and Sunday, March 10 vs. Detroit (5 P.M.)

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