'Thugs' just doing a job

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:12 PM ET


 TAMPA -- It took 23 playoff games for the Flames to officially be tagged 'hockey thugs.'

 And Ville Nieminen slapped an exclamation point on the title yesterday with his one-game suspension courtesy of NHL judge and jury Colin Campbell.

 A Tampa columnist even labelled their rugged style "rumbling." Apparently, the Broad Street Bullies of the mid-1970s were extinct before hockey became a fashionable distraction in sunny south Florida.

 Although no switch blades or brass knuckles were uncovered as the team cleared customs yesterday, Calgary's hockey heroes certainly rode into town wearing their black hats, a look coach Darryl Sutter approves of, no doubt. When asked if he thought the Flames were trying to intimidate the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup final, Bolts winger Martin St. Louis suggested the entire playoffs has been a sturdy test.

 "I don't feel that way ... They're playing physical like every other team," says St. Louis, a former Flame who has two goals and an assist in the first four games of the final.

 "Every series we've gone through has been physical. Now it's because it's the only series out there, so it's magnified. It's physical but that's what playoff hockey is."

 Edmonton's own Chris Dingman, another former Flame who's spent enough time in Alberta he can keep the NHL's six Sutters straight, says he isn't surprised or intimidated by Calgary's style of play.

 "I don't know, they're a physical team and an emotional team," says Dingman, the Bolts' penalty-minutes leader this spring.

 "Most Sutter teams are and we knew they were going to be that way. We knew coming in they were going to be physical and part of it, we just have to play through that. We've got to take the hits and we've done that. In order to score, you're going to have to pay a price to get to the front of the net and now we have to continue to do that. Obviously, (tonight's) game is going to be a tough battle, a huge game for us, so we're getting ready for that."

 Bolts stout winger Andre Roy, among the team's playoff leaders in penalty minutes despite averaging just a handful of minutes per game, shrugs off the notion the Flames are using bully tactics in their Cup chase.

 "They're just trying to hit and the more you get hit in a series, it wears down on you when you hit a guy non-stop," offers the QMJHL product, who lists former NHL enforcer Bob Probert as one of his favourite players of all time.

 "In Game 5, 6 and 7, the same guy keeps hitting you since Game 1 ... It's not about intimidation, it's just about hitting and trying to let the guy know to keep his head up because you're coming. That's more what it's all about.

 "They probably want to play physical because we've got a lot of speed and skill, obviously, so they're probably saying they have to play physical against these guys. Maybe they try to ... I don't know if it's hurt guys. Obviously, there's not always clean hits but that's how playoffs are sometimes."

 Enduring the physical battles and refusing to retaliate is the key to the Bolts' success, says coach John Tortorella.

 "That's a key in the playoffs, is your composure, your discipline, staying within your team concept and fighting through and we're going to continue to do that."


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