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Nieminen May Be Suspended

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Times Staff Writer

Calgary left wing Ville Nieminen is expected to be suspended by the NHL for a hit on Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals Monday.

Nieminen slammed Lecavalier into the glass late in the third period and received a major penalty for boarding and a misconduct penalty. NHL officials had no comment on possible disciplinary action but have dealt harshly with Nieminen already in the playoffs. He was suspended for Game 4 against Detroit in a second-round series.

“Well, I think any player, our player, opposing team’s player, when it’s defenseless and it’s a blow to the head, you’re always concerned about the health,” Tampa Bay Coach John Tortorella said. “It’s a tough game, and it’s supposed to be a tough game. But when it comes to behind-the-back blows to the head, that’s where someone is defenseless.... “

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Asked whether he expected additional discipline, all Flame Coach Darryl Sutter said Monday was, “Next question.”

The Lightning, which had avoided serious injuries in the playoffs, has lost two players in the finals because of blows to the head.

Forward Ruslan Fedotenko, Tampa Bay’s leading goal scorer, and Pavel Kubina, one of its top defensemen, missed Monday’s game and are questionable for Game 5 Thursday.

Lecavalier, who required stitches to close a cut after the hit, is expected to play.

Lecavalier declined to comment on the penalty, which left the Flames short-handed for the last 4 minutes 13 seconds in a 1-0 loss. Nieminen, however, defended his actions to reporters.

“Lecavalier turned at the last second,” Nieminen said. “It’s unfortunate. He was two feet away from the boards and fell awkwardly. I didn’t have any speed on the hit. It was a battle for the puck. I didn’t take any strides before hitting him.”

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Calgary defenseman Andrew Ference said hockey isn’t the only thing on the Flames’ minds.

“We have some great debates, especially Craig Conroy and I,” Ference said.

Such as?

“Healthcare in Canada versus the United States, Israel and Palestine, the Middle East, we cover all the bases. Craig always disagrees with anything I say. We’ll discuss things like, well, I don’t like the phrase ‘conspiracy theories,’ but situations like that.”

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And the one “theory” Ference would like solved?

“I would love to know what really went on in Florida during the 2000 elections because something was up with that,” Ference said.

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Games 3 and 4 on ABC drew two of the lowest overnight ratings since broadcast networks began carrying the finals in 1998.

Saturday’s Game 3 got a 2.2 rating, the lowest since 1998. Monday’s game got a 2.8, which tied last year’s Game 3 between New Jersey and the Ducks for the second-lowest since 1998.

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Duck center Sergei Fedorov and defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski were selected to play for Russia in the World Cup.... The Ducks were unable to sign center Tim Brent, their second-round pick in 2002, and he will be returned to the draft.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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