Nieminen charge may spark Wings

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:25 PM ET

 One can only speculate as to what Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter said to his extravagantly selfish winger, but it cannot have been kind.

 Ville Nieminen provided powder for the Detroit Red Wings' cannons in today's matinee playoff game at Joe Louis Arena with what had to be the dopiest move of the playoffs.

  For those who stayed up, the game that went into the wee hours of yesterday was gone for Calgary, 4-2 losers. Mere seconds remained and Nieminen's cranial cramp drove him into Curtis Joseph's blue ice for a drive-by drilling that sent the Detroit goaltender sprawling into the back of his net.

 Within the context of professional hockey, there is a time and place for such gambits, but with at least two games remaining, this wasn't it. While the Flames, especially goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, winced, the Wings tucked it in their motivational toolbox.

 This is the time of year when each comment, each foul, is amplified and used as an ignition point for a wildfire performance. The Wings may well be thanking Nieminen before this is over.

 You may recall four springs ago Toronto's Tie Domi lit a fire under the New Jersey Devils in similar fashion. He jammed his elbow into the kisser of Devils' Scott Niedermayer as he skated past late in the fourth game.

 Previously a tad flat, the Devils stormed back to win going away, 5-1, in Game 7. Both Niedermayer, out with a concussion and Domi, gone via suspension, were out of action by then but the Domi rallying point remained.

 Sport can be high theatre at times, with a Churchillian call to arms for all opposition insults, real or imagined. In their absence, they are even created.

 Whatever you do, coaches implore their players, don't do or say something that will provide the enemy with any more motivation than they already have. Nieminen's freelance sortie against Joseph, which earned him a one-game suspension, handed the hammer to the Wings.

 The person most likely to be directly on the receiving end is Kiprusoff, who surely had a word or two with his fellow-Finn. As in baseball, a form of get-even beanball awaits.

 Whether or not it is landed is of less consequence than the fact it exists. The Wings beat the Flames at their own industrious game and are resuming the 2-2 series on their own turf, where last change in head coach Dave Lewis's myriad line combinations becomes an important edge.

 Shaken but unhurt, Joseph could gain impetus from the incident.

 While the TV gang heaped bouquets on his work Thursday -- he did make some difficult and timely stops -- it seems here there remains a hint of uncertainty in his work. Woe betide invaders to his crease now, though.

 Of greater concern for the fast-skating Calgary gang has to be counteracting what the Wings can throw at them. Overall, Detroit upped its pace and industry to Calgary's well-documented work ethic and beyond.

 Not only are the Wings capable of finessing opponents into critical mistakes, they can grind them in that direction, too. Both produced long sieges in the Calgary zone at times last game and it fell to Kiprusoff to prevent them from being overrun.

 It can't be heartening, either, to see some of the more quiet Detroit guns suddenly finding their target. Kirk Maltby got his first goal of the playoffs and Seaforth's Boyd Devereaux, in action for only his second postseason appearance, also got his first, same as Mathieu Dandenault.

 Just as the Wings have to devote special attention to Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, there is an equally complete package the Flames have to control. Much older and certainly more playoff-hardened, Detroit captain Steve Yzerman is skating as well as he has since undergoing major knee surgery.

 As for Nieminen, he has a big debt to repay.


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