VANCOUVER -- Opening the post-season with his first playoff hat-trick of sorts did little to wipe the crazed smile off Ville Nieminen's face.
Nor did the pot shots from his teammates.
"Hey Niemo," said Andrew Ference as the tenacious Finn approached a throng of reporters waiting to ask about the three costly penalties he took against Vancouver one night earlier.
"How many penalties are you gonna take (tonight)?"
Darryl Sutter's sarcasm also found Niemo when the Flames coach was asked about his winger's, um, over-exuberance.
"I thought he had a four-day rental on that box," deadpanned Sutter on the grinder whose trio of penalties resulted in three Canucks goals in Wednesday's 5-3 series- opening loss.
"I'm disappointed he got called on them but that's not him. He plays with a lot of energy but he doesn't take penalties -- in fact, he probably isn't going to take another one in the series."
As he generally does after an important loss, Sutter thought it more pertinent to call out Jarome Iginla for his efforts in Wednesday's tilt at GM Place. Rehashing his age-old mantra about how Iginla needs to play at both ends of the ice and be more physical, Sutter said he has no doubt his captain will bounce back tonight.
"It's one game," said Iginla, shrugging off the team's first playoff appearance in eight years.
"Maybe I tried too hard and was overanxious but we'll bounce back. We're not that down."
Judging by the smiles in the dressing room, he's right. After all, the Flames are one of the most resilient clubs in the league, responding to losses with a 19-8-4 record this season. Following losses of two goals or more, the Flames were 10-4-3.
If anything, the opener was a confidence booster for an understandably anxious club that essentially took itself out of the contest early with bad penalties and poor penalty killing. Still, the Flames clawed back and made a game of it before more special- teams problems took their toll.
Knowing the problem is easily corrected by a disciplined squad like Sutter's, no one seemed the least bit worried. Why should they when a supporting cast of youngsters such as Chuck Kobasew, Oleg Saprykin and rookie Matthew Lombardi played their first playoff game with such tremendous heart and poise?
If the veterans can return to old form, the result could be radically different at The Garage tonight.
"We watched the game again this morning and if we play like we did (Wednesday) and play five on five, we'll be fine," said Sutter, whose club lost because it was just
2-for-10 with the man advantage, while Vancouver went 4-for-6.
"Hey, if our powerplay scores two goals again (tonight), I like our chances. I'm more concerned about our penalty kill taking away Vancouver's powerplay."
While talk of the tight officiating was a hot topic yesterday, no one should be confused enough to suggest the 16 minor penalties called cost the Flames the contest.
In fact, if anything, they should have helped the Flames, who enjoyed
10 powerplays to Vancouver's six. Alas, Calgary couldn't even set up in Vancouver's zone on a one-minute, two-man advantage late in the game.
"It's over now," smiled Nieminen, who has taken the heat like a man and dished out a few subtle parting shots for the refs.
"Thanks for letting us know there was a memo sent out about (clamping down). We weren't ready for what was coming but we'll show up better prepared (tonight)."
With grins and all.
'We'll be fine'
CHRIS STEVENSON --Ottawa Sun
, Last Updated: 11:24 AM ET