Gretzky: Stars were rarely targeted back in the day

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Over 30 years after it happened, there’s a reason people still talk about the time Wayne Gretzky got laid out by Bill McCreary.

You didn’t do this to the Great One.

Whether through fear of Dave Semenko or Kevin McLelland punching your lights out or simply respect, the NHL’s best players didn’t have a bull’s eye on them like they seem to do today.

Just ask Gretzky, who spoke to 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia about the on-ice violence that’s become the major storyline of the playoffs.

“They talk about the Flyers back in the ‘70s – guys like Bobby Kelly, Moose Dupont and Dave Schultz — but you never really saw those guys go after guys like Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Phil Esposito,” said Gretzky, as per SportsRadioInterviews.com.

“It was just sort of honest, hard, rough-nosed hockey, and it’s changed — there’s no question — the players are bigger and faster and stronger today than they were when we played, and obviously there’s a lot at stake playing for a Stanley Cup, and emotions are definitely really high and subsequently you’re going to have issues.”

From Henrik Sedin to Marian Hossa to Claude Giroux to Henrik Zetterberg to Daniel Alfredsson to Mike Smith, the league’s stars have been on the receiving end of violent acts, both legal and illegal, this postseason.

And that’s just during the playoffs. Victims during the regular season included Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Miller, Kris Letang and Gabriel Landeskog. And those were just the ones that resulted in suspensions.

Not surprisingly, calls for the instigator penalty to be repealed have grown louder as more stars have been placed on the injured list.

In November, Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe said too much responsibility is being heaped on referees to protect players.

“I like the game a little better in our era, mostly because the players policed the game,” he told Hockey Night in Canada. “I think there’s so much onus put on the officials right now … I don’t mind the fighting in the game, I know they’re trying to take a lot of it out.

“The game in the old days got rid of the pretenders and the guys who do the whacking and the hacking, guys that are chirping back. That stuff got eliminated years ago. If somebody was taking a shot at your best player, somebody got rid of that right away.

“The reason I think there’s a lot more injuries now? Guys are bigger, stronger, better fit overall. But you can just take runs at people left and right and they’re coming at full speed. And in the old days, you eliminated that from the game.”

Well, not entirely.

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.

Their 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.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.