Truth or Darryl?

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:48 PM ET


 TAMPA -- It started out cordially enough, with Darryl Sutter hopping off the team bus and into the hotel's conference room for the obligatory press conference.

 Well aware the question de jour would revolve around the one-game suspension handed to Ville Nieminen, he threw out a humdinger when asked what it would mean to his lineup.

 "One less Finn -- fewer vowels," he deadpanned.

 The mood changed dramatically seconds later as the Flames coach worked himself into a froth with an over-the-top, us-against-the-world speech spurred on by a suspension he suggests played favourites.

 "Expected," he said of the ruling made by NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell.

 "It holds up to exactly what's happened in the playoffs to date."

 Earlier in the day, Campbell dismissed a question about Tampa forward Cory Stillman's vicious, ear-severing elbow to the head of Calgary centre Marcus Nilson in Game 1, suggesting Stillman wasn't a dirty player and Nilson didn't appear hurt.

 Sutter felt otherwise, prompting him to suggest Gary Bettman, not Campbell, is calling the shots.

 "The decisions are made in New York, not Toronto, so you can talk to (Campbell) all you want," he said before launching into a Wayne Gretzky-like soliloquy on how his team is used to the short end of the stick.

 "We have lost three players to injuries and there was a total of two minutes called -- that's as far as it went. So fine, we know what we're up against. We're the underdog. We've said that.

 "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 we're not successful. We know that."

 At one point, his cellphone rang, interrupting his rant.

 "Probably New York again -- got to talk to Canada's team."

 Sure enough, Bettman called hours later to inform him sanctions will be levied next week for Sutter's "ill-advised, inappropriate and inaccurate" comments.

 Stunned media looked on as Sutter went on to say it's the team that complains the most or that allows its players to lay on the ice longer that gets favourable treatment from the league.

 In that vein, he's right.

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

 "I hold myself responsible because I don't bitch and whine in the media. I don't let our players talk about officiating in the media. You know, it would be better off making headlines about other incidents and I don't.

 "We never complained. A lot of you guys didn't even know about some of the injuries until the next day and you don't know their bad hits until we bring it up after the fact.

 "So that's something I have learned -- that you should bitch and complain and whine and it has an impact."

 It sure has, not only with the league but also with the Tampa media and fans too unfamiliar with the game to know any better.

 Hockey is a physical sport and to win the world's toughest tourney, it's the team that finds a way to fight through the battles best that wins.

 Instead, the fans and media here believe their team's talents aren't able to shine through simply because the Flames have employed a street-fight mentality, as they put it.

 "Wow, I'm glad we got in (to the country)," mocked Sutter, turning to a staff member to ask how long it took to get through customs.

 "Nobody got charged for street fighting, did they? That's good."

 With that, he cancelled media availability with his players, as is his right.

 While it's true NHL officials cringe when a small-market Canadian team makes the final and results in miniscule TV ratings down south, Sutter's rant was nothing more than a ploy.

 Born out of frustration, it was designed to shield his players from suspension questions while rallying his squad as Gretzky did at the 2002 Olympics.

 Although his conspiracy theory is way off base, it could prove to be brilliant if the Flames respond with a win.

 Sutter knows Nieminen got exactly what he deserved, especially since it came on the tail of a loss, as most Flames indiscretions do. He crossed the line.

 Sure, Stillman's elbow was bad but so was Martin Gelinas' hit that knocked Pavel Kubina out of Game 3.

 The Flames play an edgy, physical game that got them this far but, when you play with fire, eventually you get burned.

 Only tonight will we find out if fanning the Flames aided Sutter's cause.


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