Finding Niemo

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:07 PM ET


 Perhaps it's a fair trade-off. Ville Nieminen is frustrating the Detroit Red Wings with his relentless, agitating brand of hockey, just as the Red Wings are frustrating Nieminen with their reluctance to turn over the puck despite his in-your-face forecheck.

 The Calgary Flames' whirling dervish was certainly beside himself yesterday trying to figure out how he can have more impact in these NHL playoffs.

 "Against that team, it's not easy," said Nieminen, who's at his best when on the forecheck.

 "(The Wings) kill our forecheck so good.

 "Each and every shift, we have to skate and we have to forecheck and beat them to the loose pucks.

 "Last game, they were beating us to the loose pucks and away they went. They got to the puck and they already knew where they were going to pass the puck."

 Forechecking always has been Nieminen's game. He likes to pour on the pressure to cause, if nothing else, a brief instant of uneasiness in the minds of the opposition.

 He forces defenders to second guess their next move.

 But not the Red Wings.

 At least, not so far in this series.

 "I'm not happy with the first two games against Detroit," Nieminen said.

 Furthermore, the left-winger also figures the Red Wings won't give into retaliation, even though Chris Chelios was certainly miffed with Nieminen taking liberties on his captain Steve Yzerman with a hard hit late in Game 2.

 "They won't retaliate -- that's for sure," Nieminen said.

 "They are so smart. They are not going to do anything stupid. It's tough to get them out of their game."

 But that likely won't deter Nieminen from continuing to push the Red Wings' buttons and tempting them to take a needless penalty.

 He's done it his entire career.

 Whether playing for the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Chicago Blackhawks or now with the Flames, Nieminen has been known for his agitating persistence.

 Down the regular-season stretch, he proved invaluable as a pesky pacesetter as well as a solid point producer.

 He proudly admits patterning his game after fellow Finn Esa Tikkanen, the king of NHL agitators.

 "Niemo's famous for that," said linemate Shean Donovan.

 "I think as the series goes on, he gets under someone's skin more and more.

 "It's a feeling-out period early in the series. And I think he's started to work on some guys.

 "You saw later in the Vancouver series, when guys started taking some exceptions to him.

 "That's what he wants -- to draw some penalties."

 But what the Flames don't want is for Nieminen to take the same kind of penalties he took in Game 1 against the Canucks. He was tagged for three minors that led to three powerplay markers, including the opening two goals of the playoffs.

 "His is an important role, as long as you do it within the rules," said Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter.

 "It doesn't serve a purpose when you're down two or three goals or if it's in the form of taking penalties.

 "He can play better."

 And he needs to do it early.

 "All of us have to pick it up early," Donovan said.

 "But with him, in the first series, he did his job and he played good.

 "I think last game, he started to get under (Tomas) Holmstrom's skin a little bit and I think he'll get under more and more guys' skins."

 No doubt, he'll give it a whirl.


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