Niemo in hot water

RANDY SPORTAK and TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

 DETROIT -- Acting as if it was yet another injury, Darryl Sutter shrugged off a one-game suspension handed Ville Nieminen yesterday.

 "It doesn't matter how I feel. They've made their decision," the Flames GM/head coach said last night.

  "They're protecting the goalie.

 "Do we like it? No, but other guys just have to be better."

 The Flames winger received the banishment for his hit on Detroit Red Wings goalie Curtis Joseph late in Game 4 Thursday night at the Saddledome. Nieminen was handed a major penalty for charging.

 Who'll replace Nieminen when the puck drops on Game 5 today in Detroit (1 p.m., CBC) remains to be seen but the Flames have a handful of forwards on hand to step in: Lynn Loyns, Martin Sonnenberg and, if healthy, Dave Lowry and Chris Simon.

 "It's not like we're going to play four lines, anyway," Sutter said. "What it means is somebody has to step up. We can play Lombo (Matthew Lombardi) more, move around (Marcus) Nilson or maybe Oleg Saprykin will play better.

 "Really, Niemo and Marty Gelinas have been our best left wingers. Oleg hasn't done enough this series."

 Nieminen pleaded innocent yesterday before the flight to Detroit, before news of the suspension broke.

 "It was an accident," he said.

 "Things like that happen in a game. It's just frustration. I don't know -- I really still don't know what happened."

 Added Sutter: "Niemo could have avoided him but, at the same time,

 I don't think it was blatant or anything like that.

 "He's not a dirty player, we've seen that. He had those penalties in the first game (against Vancouver) but he's not a dirty player."

 While Joseph himself figured the hit was "just part of the game," Red Wings head coach Dave Lewis considered it otherwise.

 "He deliberately ran into him," Lewis said.

 "He just drove right at Curtis. He violated the code. There's rules for it but there's a code in the National Hockey League.

 "I haven't seen that a lot -- crossing the line like that just deliberately."

 "Personally, I think he should be suspended," Wings defenceman Derian Hatcher said.

 "There's three seconds left in the game. It's just too easy to do at the end of a game."

 "It was cheap -- that's pretty much what it was. No class," added Darren McCarty, whose Wings wanted a piece of Nieminen but were held back by officials.

 "More upsetting is why he wants to do that and then the ref steps in there. If he's going to do that, you expect him to receive his just due."

 If nothing else, the incident could lead to more fireworks today at Joe Louis Arena, or provide more incentive for the Wings.

 Or not.

 "It's over and done with," said Wings winger Kirk Maltby.

 "Now we just move on with it."

 Which Sutter expects his charges to do.


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