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Final 100 games have plenty of intrigue

13 storylines to watch as NHL regular season winds down

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

When the puck is dropped for one of the two games scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, the 100-game dash to the end of the NHL regular season on April 9 will begin.

It is a small sample considering the size of the regular season (1,230 games), but a great deal will be decided during the 13-day sprint to the regular-season finale. 

The Stanley Cup Playoffs start on April 12, beginning a second race. But before we turn the page toward the postseason, here is a look at 13 storylines worth following from now until a week from Sunday:

 

Who will win the Presidents' Trophy?

The Washington Capitals currently have a three-point lead in the race. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks each are three points behind. Pittsburgh has played one more game than Washington and the Blackhawks have played two more. The Presidents' Trophy winner will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

 

Who will win the Pacific Division?

The veteran Anaheim Ducks lead now, but things could change in the final two weeks. The Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks each are two points behind and the Calgary Flames trail by three. The Ducks have one game left against the Oilers and two against the Flames; they do not play the Sharks again. The Sharks play the Flames and Oilers twice each.

 

Who will win the second wild card in the Eastern Conference?

The Boston Bruins hold the spot now, but the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and perhaps the Carolina Hurricanes, will have a say. The Bruins, who also could also move up into third place in the Atlantic Division and pass the Toronto Maple Leafs, play six of their remaining seven games at home.

Video: BOS@NYI: Nash cuts in and scores second of the game

 
Can the Maple Leafs make the playoffs in their second season under coach Mike Babcock?

The last time the Maple Leafs made the playoffs in 2013, they lost a first-round heartbreaker to the Bruins in seven games. But Toronto appears ahead of their rebuilding schedule and could accelerate their timeline by getting to the playoffs in Babcock's second year. Toronto has eight games remaining; four against teams in playoff positions, including three of its final four.

 

Who will win the Calder Trophy?

This likely will remain a two-man race right to the finish line. Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets each has 34 goals and 61 points, leading all rookies in scoring. Matthews was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and Laine was No. 2.

Video: SAP Stats: Leaders in the race for the Calder Trophy

 

Who will win the scoring race?

Connor McDavid of the Oilers is out front with 88 points (26 goals, 62 assists), pulling away from Penguins captain Sidney Crosby (82 points on 42 goals and 40 assists) in the past week. Can McDavid stay ahead and become the youngest player to lead the League in scoring since Crosby with 120 points (36 goals, 84 assists) as a 19-year-old in 2006-07?

 

Will the Minnesota Wild find their game in time for the playoffs?

Not too long ago, the Wild were leading the Western Conference and fighting for first place in the League. Now they are eight points behind the Blackhawks, their Central Division rival, in the Western Conference race. The Wild are 1-7-1 in their past nine games but have the schedule to get healthy; after they visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday, Minnesota will finish with four games against teams not currently in a playoff position, including two against the last-place Colorado Avalanche.

 

Where will the Sharks end up in the playoff picture?

Like the Wild, the Sharks were in cruise control in early March, holding a sizable lead in the Pacific and looking at a matchup against the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Now, on a season-long six-game losing streak, it is conceivable the Sharks, a Stanley Cup finalist last season, could fall into that first wild-card spot. Five of their final seven games are against teams in playoff position, including two each against the Oilers and Flames, two of the teams chasing them.

 

Can Jonathan Marchessault of the Florida Panthers reach 30 goals?

He has 29 this season, scoring again on Monday against the Buffalo Sabres and has six goals in his past three games. His career total before this season? Eight, in 49 games with the Blue Jackets and the Lightning. It has been a dream season for the 26-year-old center.

 

Goodbye to 'The Joe'

There are four more games to bid farewell to Joe Louis Arena, the home of the Detroit Red Wings since 1979. So much history has been made in that building, located near the Windsor River, and so many famous players have called it home. The closing ceremony on April 9, before the Red Wings host the New Jersey Devils, will be a can't-miss affair.

 

The return of Shane Doan

Doan, the 40-year-old Arizona Coyotes forward, has been sidelined for the past six games with a lower-body injury. In his 21st NHL season, the Arizona captain is approaching the finish line of a stellar career, spent entirely with the Coyotes franchise, dating to its days in Winnipeg. If the 2016-17 season proves to be the end, here's hoping Doan returns to the lineup before the season finishes and has a sendoff prior to his two-decade career closing.

 

Will Josh Ho-Sang be a difference-maker for the Islanders?

Ho-Sang, who played his first game on March 2, has been one of the bright spots for the Islanders in their bid to try to make the postseason for the second straight time. After going without a point in his first three games, Ho-Sang, 21, has eight points (three goals, five assists) in his past 11 games and has been an electrifying presence. His responsibilities have grown and he is getting more minutes and even time on the first power-play unit.

 

Who will be the ultimate hero?

A player will step up in these next two weeks to lead his team to the playoffs. Will it be rookie center Yanni Gourde in Tampa Bay? Will it be burgeoning power forward Micheal Ferland in Calgary? Will it be rookie goalie Juuse Saros in Nashville? Will it be journeyman Lee Stempniak in Carolina? Will it be someone else?

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