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.