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Hurricane alert: Carolina whips Toronto 6-1, Leafs fall out of playoff spot

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Two teams going in very different directions met at PNC Arena tonight… and continued on their respective paths.

The Carolina Hurricanes beat Toronto 6-1 on Thursday, earning their fifth straight win and — perhaps most significantly — temporarily overtook the Leafs for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto, which has lost three in a row, is now sitting outside the playoff picture for the first time this season.

The Leafs only have themselves to blame for this fall from grace. They came out flat on Tuesday and the ‘Canes jumped all over it, scoring three first-period goals before John-Michael Liles — the former Leaf — scored his first goal as a ‘Cane early in the second period to give his club a 4-1 lead.

Jordan Staal then scored shorthanded 35 seconds into the third period before rookie Elias Lindholm finished things off on a late power play to make it 6-1, rubbing further salt in Toronto’s wounds.

While the ‘Canes are flying high and in the midst of their best stretch of the season, the Leafs are experiencing one of their worst. Toronto has been outscored 18-5 over the last three games and their strength this season — goaltending — has faltered badly, as both Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have been sub-par during the winless slide.

For Carolina, Jeff Skinner continued his torrid pace by scoring once again, and now has 17 goals in his last 17 games. The ‘Canes also got a three-point night from Lindholm (in his first game back from World Juniors duty) and four points from Staal, who was named the game’s first star.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Thursday night. You can catch tonight’s action via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Dallas at St. Louis (8:00 p.m. ET) 

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Blues lead the series 2-1.

San Jose at Nashville (9:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on CNBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Sharks lead the series 2-1.

Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s games:

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

Preds smash Sharks in Game 3 to get back in series

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

Just for Men: Sidney Crosby

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People love star athletes because they can do amazing things. Even so, people also often love to see the occasional moment of weakness.

Aside from the occasional injury hiccup, Sidney Crosby‘s been as advertised after being a super-hyped No. 1 overall pick. He has that “Golden Goal,” two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup ring and plenty of individual accolades.

… Yet he can’t really grow much of a beard.

Granted, his facial hair is thicker now that he’s “Sid the star nearing 30” rather than “Sid the Kid,” but no one will confuse him for Brent Burns and his living-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods beard.

For some, especially Crosby-haters, it’s fodder for mockery.

For the rest of us, it’s merely comforting to see that people like Crosby are human and actually have a few flaws.

Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives,’ says Caps’ Beagle

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Not many people expected the Capitals-Penguins series to be over in five games, but there’s a chance that could happen before the end of the week. After their 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, the Capitals are one loss away from being bounced from the 2016 playoffs.

The Capitals failed to take advantage of the fact that Kris Letang was suspended for Game 4 because of his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3. Letang is now set to return for Game 5 which makes Washington’s task even more difficult.

“We didn’t take advantage of it,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per NHL.com. “One thing I said to the guys coming into this, and we talked it about it yesterday, was when Kris got his suspension, is that they’re going to rally. Their whole team, their forwards are going to come back. They talked about they didn’t play their best game (in Game 3) and now they have Letang out and everybody had to step up on their side, and I thought they did.”

If you look back at the regular season, the Capitals were head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference and the league for a good portion of the season. Washington finished 11 points ahead of second place Dallas in the league standings and it looked like they had the team that would finally take them over the hump.

Although things look gloomy, it’s important to realize that the series is far from over. Many NHLers would tell you that the fourth win is always the hardest to come by in a best-of-seven series, and by no means is anyone expecting the Capitals to wave the white flag.

“Whenever you lose a game, it’s obviously an opportunity missed, but it had nothing to do with them missing some of their players,” said Caps forward Jay Beagle, per NHL.com. “We’re looking forward. Our back’s against the wall and the most important game of our lives is coming up.”

Game 5 goes Saturday night in Washington.

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: