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League unveils 2013-14 schedule with new alignment

A woman walks past one of the bronze lion statues in front of the Art Institute of Chicago that was fitted with an oversized hockey helmet i
A woman walks past one of the bronze lion statues in front of the Art Institute of Chicago that was fitted with an oversized hockey helmet i

(Reuters) - Six outdoor games and a new conference and division alignment highlight the 2013-14 regular season schedule released by the National Hockey League (NHL) on Friday.

The 1,230-game season, 82 games per team, opens October 1 with the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning April 16, the league said in a statement.

The Chicago Blackhawks, one of six teams playing on opening night, will raise their Stanley Cup championship banner to the United Center rafters before hosting the Washington Capitals.

Six games will be played outdoors, including the NHL's marquee Winter Classic on New Year's Day featuring an Original Six matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium.

The 2014 schedule will also see the return of the NHL Heritage Classic with the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks facing off at BC Place on March 2.

Four other outdoor games will make up the NHL Stadium Series: the Anaheim Ducks versus the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium on January 25, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils at Yankee Stadium on January 26, the Rangers and New York Islanders at Yankee Stadium on January 29 and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field on March 1.

The league will pause from February 9-25 while over 120 NHL players comprise the majority of the rosters of the national teams competing in the Sochi Olympics.

Effective this season, the NHL will operate under a new time-zone friendly divisional alignment and scheduling matrix that ensures all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once each season.

The Eastern Conference will feature two eight-team divisions, called Metropolitan and Atlantic, while the Western Conference will have two seven-team divisions called the Pacific and Central.

Under the new format, the first 12 postseason berths go to the top three finishers in each division while remaining playoff spots in each conference, designated as "wild cards," will go to the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Steve Keating)