5 storylines to watch over final month of NHL season
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With the 2020-21 regular season heading into crunch time, there are still plenty of key affairs to be determined down the stretch. Teams are jockeying for the final playoff positions, players are battling for individual hardware, and a few of the league's stars look to leave their marks.

Here are five storylines to follow as the campaign winds down.

McDavid's chase for 100

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Connor McDavid needs 16 points in the Edmonton Oilers' final eight outings to rack up a remarkable 100 over the shortened 56-game slate. The schedule should benefit McDavid, too, with games coming against favorable opponents.

The Oilers have five tilts remaining with the Vancouver Canucks - a club valiantly playing out its schedule after enduring a COVID-19 outbreak - two against the Montreal Canadiens, and one against the Calgary Flames. McDavid has tallied eight points in five games against the Canucks this season and 15 in nine outings against Edmonton's provincial rivals.

McDavid is already in rarified air with his historic campaign, as The Athletic's James Mirtle pointed out. The Hart Trophy favorite is on pace for 144 points over a full 82-game slate, which would mark the highest single-season total since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr amassed 161 and 149, respectively, in 1995-96.

Race for final playoff seeds

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The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues are close to clinching the last playoff spot in their respective groups, but a pair of races in the North and Central Divisions should provide plenty of entertainment down the stretch.

In the North, the Flames have battled back into contention and sit six points behind the Canadiens for fourth. The sides don't meet again this season, but Calgary has a chance to end strong with its final four games coming against Vancouver. The Habs, however, have three games against the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs and a pair against McDavid and the Oilers.

The race in the Central is seemingly between two clubs at this point, with the Chicago Blackhawks needing a miracle to get in. The Dallas Stars, with one game in hand, sit two points behind the Nashville Predators for the final berth in the division. The Predators have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, and a pivotal game between them and the Stars on Saturday will make a big impact on the Preds' hopes of extending that streak.

Matthews' historic scoring pace

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With an eight-goal cushion, Auston Matthews has all but locked up his first career "Rocket" Richard Trophy, but the Maple Leafs superstar has a chance to make history along the way.

Matthews' absurd goals-per-game mark has been bested just once since 2005-06. With 36 tallies in 46 games, the blue-chip pivot is producing at a 64-goal pace over 82 games - just one shy of Alex Ovechkin's memorable 65-goal campaign in 2007-08.

Player GPG Season
Alex Ovechkin 0.79 2007-08
Auston Matthews 0.78 2020-21
Steven Stamkos 0.73 2011-12
Mika Zibanejad 0.72 2019-20
Alex Ovechkin 0.71 2008-09
Alex Ovechkin 0.71 2019-20

*Minimum 45 games played

If Matthews continues to score at this pace over the Leafs' final six games, he'll become just the fourth player since 1985-86 to lead the league in tallies with 0.78 goals per game or higher, according to NHL PR.

Ovechkin's climb into top 5

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Alex Ovechkin remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but the Washington Capitals' perennial sniper is bound to break more records this season. Ovechkin's just one goal back of tying Marcel Dionne for fifth all time in goals, and with six games remaining, The Great Eight appears destined to move into the top five.

Rank Player Goals GPG
1 Wayne Gretzky 894 0.60
2 Gordie Howe 801 0.45
3 Jaromir Jagr 766 0.44
4 Brett Hull 741 0.58
5 Marcel Dionne 731 0.54
6 Alex Ovechkin 730 0.61

What's perhaps most remarkable about the Russian winger's career is that he's scored at a more efficient pace than any player above him. Ovechkin ranks sixth all time in goals per game and first among all players who've played at least 1,000 career contests.

Awards races

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Some of the major awards are essentially decided - including the "Rocket" Richard, Hart Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award - but there are a few still up for grabs. The Norris Trophy, Calder, and Jack Adams could go several ways, so let's dive into each.

Norris Trophy (Top defenseman)

If Colorado Avalanche phenom Cale Makar didn't miss extended time earlier this season, the award would likely be his to lose at this point. However, New York Rangers rearguard Adam Fox is having an incredible sophomore season, and it's feeling increasingly likely that the Big Apple will celebrate its first Norris Trophy winner since Brian Leetch in 1997.

Fox already set a new career high with 47 points in 50 games to lead all defensemen in scoring while also boasting strong underlying numbers. Bruins rearguard Charlie McAvoy has also stepped up in a major way this campaign, and Boston faces the Rangers in a pair of games next week.

For a deeper look into the race, check out our most recent Norris Trophy power rankings.

Calder Trophy (Top rookie)

Welcome to the NHL, Jason Robertson. The Stars rookie put himself on the map with an absolutely torrid two-month stretch. Robertson has racked up 33 points over his last 30 games to turn the Calder Trophy hunt into a two-horse race between him and Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov.

It's worth noting that Dallas closes out its campaign with six straight road games, and Robertson has amassed just eight of his 40 points away from home this season. Kaprizov, meanwhile, has netted seven goals in his previous seven games and is on pace for 37 tallies over a full 82-game slate.

For a deeper look into the race, check out our most recent Calder Trophy power rankings.

Jack Adams Award (Best coach)

This one's tough. There's often a pretty clear favorite for the Jack Adams, but this year's crop of candidates remains quite large.

Rod Brind'Amour has done a sensational job in his third year with the Carolina Hurricanes, Pete DeBoer has led the Vegas Golden Knights to the league's best record to date, Dean Evason has lifted a surprise Minnesota team, and Sheldon Keefe has established an identity Toronto has lacked in recent years.

In addition, Mike Sullivan has done a tremendous job keeping the injury-hampered Pittsburgh Penguins near the top of the division once again, and Joel Quenneville has finally gotten the most out of a talented Panthers roster in Florida.

5 storylines to watch over final month of NHL season
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