Trash talk: How far is too far?

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By now, most people are familiar with Wayne Simmonds’ “alleged” slur directed at Sean Avery. Simmonds has denied using the word and the league refused to punish the Flyers forward because there none of the on-ice officials actually witnessed it. Part of the reason that the story has gained so much traction is because Simmonds was actually captured on video using the alleged term. Part of it is because Simmonds himself had just been a victim of a racist act only days before in London, Ontario. Regardless, the emotional climate around the game was already at a fever-pitch when Simmonds and Avery had their war of words.

One NHL coach thinks that things have gone too far. Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien said things have gotten out of control with the trash talk that occurs on the ice. In fact, Julien thinks that it’s time to start punishing players for trash talk that crosses the line:

“There’s a rule in place for certain type of language — whether it’s to referees and stuff like that, you certainly can get tossed out of a game. I’m one of those guys that believe that you know you shouldn’t be crossing the lines. There’s some things that are being said out there that are really crossing the line. Whether that’s been like that decades ago, I’m not quite sure. People are going after divorces or calling people certain names that I don’t even want to allude to here, but there is a fine line I think that has to exist.”

Let’s be clear: this isn’t first time anyone has used this particular type of language on the ice. In fact, it’s probably not the first time that exact word was use in Avery’s direction. It doesn’t make it right—but let’s not pretend like this is the first time anything like this has happened. If HBO had all 40 guys mic’d up every single game, we’d certainly hear language that would make Bruce Boudreau blush. One of the main reasons this is a huge story is because it was caught on tape.

The difference today is just how far the slurs and taunts go these days. Julien had more to say:

“There’s gamesmanship and then there’s crossing the line, and, you know, I think more and more, players today are going further than they used to.”

“You’d hoped that it would be policed by themselves, by having a little bit more respect for each other. They are part of a player’s association and they should all be part of a group. There should be at least that kind of respect that exists.”

Policing language on the ice is a slippery slope that the NHL should want no part of policing. Something that is deemed offensive to a guy like Rocco Grimaldi may be just a normal part of speech for other players around the NHL. Then again, something that Sean Avery or Wayne Simmonds may say in the heat of battle may be acceptable to them—but not acceptable to a player who is in the middle of a slump and struggling to make a team. Will the NHL be responsible to hand down a fine or suspension each and every time a player is offended by an opponent?

It’s a tough situation because many people (including this writer), do not condone a player using the Simmonds particular slur. Just like there are slurs that are highly offensive to African American athletes, Simmonds alleged insult are those that will strike a nerve with GLAAD. Just about every demographic has a few words that cross the line.

These are the easy cases—there’s no place in the game for that kind of language. Most would say there’s no place in society.

Here’s the question: who draws the line what is accepted and what is not? There’s a rather large gray area here because different people have different standards. Obviously, this is a touchy subject so we want to throw it out to the readers. What do you think? Do you think trash talking should be limited or should players continue to have free reign over what is said on the ice. Do you have any ideas of how the league could logically police trash talking?

Nikita Kucherov is trying to carry the Lightning to the playoffs

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Every time you think the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff chances might be finished this season, they always find a way to keep them alive and stay in the race.

Thanks to their 2-1 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, the Lightning were able to keep pace with the New York Islanders and move to within a single point of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as we prepare to enter the final weeks of the regular season. It is still pretty amazing to think about them being this close to a playoff spot when you consider the injuries the team has dealt with this season. Steven Stamkos, their best player, has not played since November. Their center depth has been decimated in recent weeks with Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vladislav Namestnikov all missing significant time in the month of March. They traded Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline for nothing that will help this current team.

And yet, here they are, still right in the thick of the playoff race.

If they are able to pull this off and get one of the eight spots in the Eastern Conference is going to be because Nikita Kucherov has pretty much put the team on his back over the past month and single handedly carried it to one.

Kucherov scored another massive goal on Friday night when he scored the overtime winner in Detroit, and is currently in the middle of a four-game stretch where he has scored a goal in every game (for a total of seven) and recorded multiple points in each one (for a total of nine). If you go back over the past month, a stretch where the Lightning have managed to go 10-5-1 over a 16-game stretch to remain in the race, Kucherov has been the best offensive player in the league by a wide margin.

Since that stretch began on Feb. 20, Kucherov has scored 17 goals (four more than any other player in the league) and recorded 29 total points (eight more than any other player) to be the single biggest driving force behind the Lightning offense. His 29 points during that stretch mean he has had a hand (scoring or assisting) in 66 percent of the team’s goals (they have 44 during that stretch). He has scored close to 40 percent of them himself.

It is all part of an incredible season that has seen Kucherov climb to the top-five in the league in scoring even though he has missed seven games.

His 1.16 point per game average is third in the league among players that have played at least 60 games, trailing only Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, and he is only 0.02 points off of McDavid’s pace. He is doing that while owning a 56 percent Corsi percentage that is in the top-25 of the entire league.

He has been one of the most dominant players in the league this season, and has taken his game to an entirely new level in the past month just when the Lightning have needed it most. If they get in, it’s going to be because of him.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.