Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 24 News List

League dampens red-hot Flames with suspension

AP , TAMPA, FLORIDA

Darryl Sutter was already having a long day when his cellphone rang during his daily news conference.

Wednesday was the second of two consecutive days off during the Stanley Cup finals, and before the Calgary Flames coach boarded a flight to Florida he got the bad news he was already expecting.

Second-line forward Ville Nieminen was suspended for Game 5 of the tied series for his boarding penalty against Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier.

So when the phone broke the silence in the hotel ballroom, Sutter sarcastically said that it was the NHL office in New York calling to talk to "Canada's team." He already knew about the suspension and expected it, as well.

"We know what we're up against," an angry Sutter said. "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."

Nieminen drilled Lecavalier into the boards late in Tampa Bay's 1-0 victory on Monday that tied the best-of-seven series 2-2. He was given a major penalty and a game misconduct, which wrecked any hopes the Flames had of scoring the tying goal.

Because the penalty assessed was severe to the Flames, league disciplinarian Colin Campbell felt a one-game ban was sufficient. It was the second suspension of the playoffs for Nieminen, who also missed a game in the second round after he ran over Detroit goalie Curtis Joseph.

"If we see the guy again, we'll say, `Gee, how many times do we have to see this guy or is he going to learn to stay within the parameters of the game, and not venture outside?'" Campbell said. "It's always a factor."

Lecavalier sat out the final four-plus minutes, and his status for Thursday's game was unknown until he pronounced himself fit before practice.

"Of course I was a little dizzy, but half an hour after the game I felt fine," Lecavalier said Wednesday. "No headaches, nothing. I feel great."

That is way more than Sutter could say.

He started out by joking about the loss of Nieminen for the pivotal Game 5. Maybe it's because he is confident in his team that has won three previous Game 5s in these playoffs, all on the road.

"One less Finn, fewer vowels," he said when asked what Nieminen's absence meant.

The jokes stopped shortly after the phone rang.

Sutter claimed that the media fueled the outrage to Nieminen's check. But he wouldn't specify exactly whom he felt wanted his team to lose.

"None of your business," he said.

Instead, it will be that of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Sutter said that the decision didn't come from the league's Toronto office, where Campbell is located, but instead from New York, where Bettman is based.

"Mr. Sutter's comments were ill-advised, inappropriate and inaccurate," Bettman said in a statement released Wednesday night. "The focus of the Stanley Cup final should be on the ice, and to the extent any response is needed to any gamesmanship off the ice, it will be made after the final is over."

The business at hand is who will take the lead in the series that has gone back and forth since the Flames took the opener in Tampa. One team will be heading to Calgary a win away from capturing the Stanley Cup.

"We're moving on," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "It's about Game 5, it's not about the suspension."

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