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.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.