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NHL announces schedule, new division alignments

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Once again, the NHL will open its season in Japan. There also will be games in Florida and New York the same night.

Less than a month after the end of the Stanley Cup finals, the NHL on Wednesday announced its 1998-99 schedule, which includes an opening-night game in Tokyo between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks.Last season, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Vancouver Canucks opened with two games at Yoyogi Arena in Tokyo, attracting sellout crowds of 10,500 each night. This time, Calgary and San Jose will get the season started in the same arena with games Friday and Saturday, Oct. 9-10.

Two other games also are scheduled on opening night, with the Florida Panthers opening their new Broward County Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Philadelphia Flyers visiting the New York Rangers.

The Nashville Predators get started on Oct. 10 when they face the Panthers at home, the start of a two-game homestand for the expansion team. The Predators follow up with a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 13.

The Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings won't get to raise their banner until their home opener Oct. 16 against the St. Louis Blues. The Red Wings open the season Oct. 10 in Toronto.

The regular season runs through April 18, with 16 of the 27 teams qualifying for the playoffs, which begin April 21.

With the addition of Nashville, the first of four expansion teams to join the NHL over the next three seasons, the league will have three divisions in each conference.

The Predators will play in the Central Division of the Western Conference with Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. The rest of the conference has Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver in the Northwest Division and Anaheim, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose in the Pacific.

The Eastern Conference has New Jersey, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division; Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto in the Northwest; and Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington in the Southeast.