Archive for Thursday, June 3, 2004

Flames complain of pro-Lightning bias

Calgary’s Nieminen suspended for Game 5 for ramming Tampa Bay’s Lecavalier into glass

June 3, 2004


— Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter deflected attention away from Ville Nieminen's suspension by complaining Wednesday that some NHL factions badly want the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Stanley Cup.

Sutter said suspending one of his top players for Game 5 only reinforces his small market, Canadian-based team's status as underdogs in a finals that were expected to be fast and furious but instead have been physical, injury-filled and low-scoring.

The two teams have alternated victories heading into tonight's pivotal game, which will leave the winner one victory short of the Stanley Cup.

Tampa Bay avoided a 3-1 deficit in the series by winning 1-0 Monday night in Calgary.

Late in that game, Nieminen -- a feisty, aggressive agitator suspended once earlier in the playoffs for a hit on Detroit goalie Curtis Joseph -- rammed Lightning player Vincent Lecavalier face-first into the glass. Lecavalier's helmet popped off and he needed stitches on the right side of his head, but he said Wednesday he feels fine and will play in Game 5.

NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell hinted Nieminen's repeat-offender status figured into a one-game suspension that infuriated Sutter.

"So fine, we know what we're up against," Sutter said. "We're the underdog. We've said that. I am not saying it now to make a point, but it's dead-on true. We're the little team that wasn't supposed to be here and a lot of people don't want us to be here and to make sure that we're not successful. We know that."

Asked to whom he was referring, Sutter said, "None of your business."

But it was obvious whom he meant. At one point during his 20-minute news conference, Sutter's cell phone rang. He let it ring, then said, "Probably New York again," a reference to the NHL's main offices.

League officials did not comment on Sutter's remarks.

Sutter also hinted media pressure on the league to suspend Nieminen figured into the decision. As a result, he is questioning his own policy of not letting players complain about injuries, even if they occur on plays that aren't penalized. Nieminen was given a 5-minute major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct for ramming into Lecavalier.

"Hey, the media is a powerful tool, believe me," he said.

Sutter's attention-shifting tactics are similar to those used by Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock and Lightning coach John Tortorella during the Eastern Conference finals. At one point, Tortorella said Hitchcock should "shut his yap."

This time, Tortorella had little to say, declining repeatedly to discuss the play or the suspension. Lecavalier said only that he planned to play tonight.

"Oh yeah, of course," he said, as if it never was an issue.

Both teams are undefeated in Game 5s -- Calgary is 3-0, all on the road, and Tampa Bay is 2-0 -- and Lecavalier and teammate Brad Richards said that the game was their focus, not the recurring injuries.

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