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Columnist: Lockout “could not have come at a better time for Burke”

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Four years ago today, Brian Burke was named president and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Suffice to say, things have not gone as planned.

With Burke in charge, the Leafs have failed to make the playoffs and are still without many of the aspects they were lacking before his much-ballyhooed arrival – most notably, a No. 1 center, reliable goaltending and, perhaps most galling, “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.”

With that in mind, the National Post’s Michael Traikos argues that the NHL lockout “could not have come at a better time for Burke.”

The longer it goes, the more time he buys. Prospects such as Morgan Rielly, Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy might be one step closer to being NHL-ready. And salary-cap dead weights such as Tim Connolly (US$4.75-million) and Matthew Lombardi (US$3.5-million) would come off the books.

At the same time, Joffrey Lupul and Clarke MacArthur would also be free agents, but maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe the Leafs try to re-sign Lupul for less than his current US$4.25-million salary. And with another year in the minors under their belts, maybe Matt Frattin or Nazem Kadri simply takes MacArthur’s spot on the second line.

Or maybe Burke takes a look at what’s available in free agency. Last year’s crop of free agents were limited, but with teams unable to talk to their players during a lockout, there potentially could be more names on the market in 2013.

Would Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry reunite with Burke and head coach Randy Carlyle in Toronto? Would the Leafs take a run at Boston’s Nathan Horton, New Jersey’s Travis Zajac, San Jose’s Ryan Clowe or Florida’s Stephen Weiss?

Another summer also means Burke has another opportunity to hammer out a trade for Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. Or maybe Burke signs free agent Tim Thomas, Niklas Backstrom or Mike Smith.

Many observers believe Burke will be fired if the Leafs miss the playoffs for a fifth straight time under his watch. And hey, you can’t be blamed for missing the playoffs if there aren’t any.

By that logic, Burke may indeed have a better shot of keeping his job if the NHL were to cancel the entire season.

Which somehow seems wrong.

PHT Morning Skate: Shane Doan takes a (friendly) shot at the Miracle on Ice

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Shane Doan took a friendly jab at the the movie “Miracle” and the Miracle on Ice. (BarDown)

–The best of the worst Upper Deck hockey cards from 2015-16. (Puck Junk)

–Here’s a list of the top 50 players in WHL history. (WHL)

–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)

–A sad story about how Chris Phillips feels helpless as his hometown of Fort McMurray burns. (CBC)

–“You want to get back into things right away (but) I think these last four or five months have been good for me.” Former Penguins coach Mike Johnston is ready to coach again. (Local XPress)

–Blues forward Jori Lehtera is in a pretty random commercial:

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.