Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer
DETROIT -- Just call him Mr. April, May and June.
There's something about this time of year that clearly brings out the best in Detroit Red Wings power forward Johan Franzen. Affectionately referred to as "The Mule," Franzen did it again on Sunday, as he notched his 18th goal in his last 19 postseason games, helping lead a 4-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of this Western Conference semifinal at Joe Louis Arena. It was a statistic that even surprised Franzen when it was brought to his attention after his team grabbed a 3-2 series lead.
"Oh, really?" he said, smiling. "I don't know. You don't get that many chances, so you've got to really dig down to get them. Maybe that's what happening."
Whatever it is, it makes the Red Wings even more dangerous than they already are at this time of year. Franzen, who scored 34 goals during the regular season, somehow manages to step up his game and consistently scores timely goals for a team that is just one win away from yet another trip to the conference finals.
After watching his big forward come up with yet another big goal, Detroit coach Mike Babcock compared Franzen -- at least from a size standpoint -- to Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, who had an eight-game point streak snapped on Sunday.
"Every time they're on the ice, they're so dangerous," Babcock said. "Their size allows them to go into traffic without being cautious so easily, and to me, that's what separates them. When you're not as big as them, it's harder at this time of year and these guys have been great."
And this time of year certainly brings out the best in No. 93.
"His game's suited for any time of year, but I think sometimes his activation level probably isn't quite the same," Babcock said.
That's not a problem now. Eighteen goals in his last 19 playoff games. Twenty in his last 25. Chances are when you look at a Red Wings' box score this time of year, the name "Franzen" won't be difficult to find.
"I don't think my game is different … I think maybe it works better in playoff type of hockey," Franzen said.
He etched his name on the score sheet 3:23 into the second period. Although they came up empty despite outshooting Anaheim 14-3 in the first, Franzen and the Red Wings erupted for a pair of goals just 39 seconds apart. Franzen broke the scoreless tie when he took a pass from rookie Justin Abdelkader, made a nifty move around Ryan Whitney and then ripped a wrist shot from between the circles past Jonas Hiller for his seventh goal of the playoffs.
Just another day at the office.
"I don't think there's much to say about him," said Detroit forward Jiri Hudler, who scored after Franzen to give the Red Wings a 2-0 lead. "Mule is one of the best when the game is on the line. He makes something happen. He's a big guy and he's got a great pair of hands. That's our mule."
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, the nickname makes perfect sense. Every time he gets the puck at the opposition's blue line, you almost expect something special to happen. And, during the month of May, something usually does.
"He's got a knack for finding the back of the net," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "He's shooting the puck at the right times, too. He's going into the hard areas and he's not shying away from that. But he has to continue to shoot the puck. I think that's a big reason."
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle posed a frightening thought about Franzen after watching his team pushed to the brink of elimination.
"He's probably not even filled out to his full size yet," Carlyle said. "He's a big guy. The difference in the size of him between this year and last year is quite noticeable. He's strong on the puck."
His size, strength and hands made it an easy decision for Detroit GM Ken Holland when the Wings signed Franzen to an 11-year, $43 million contract extension on April 11.
Not bad for someone who scored a combined 22 goals in his first two seasons in Motown. He's had 20 in the last two postseasons.
And he's not done yet.
"Last year, he caught everybody off guard," Red Wings forward Dan Cleary said of Franzen, who had 27 regular-season goals before tallying 13 in 16 playoff games. "He's been dominant. He's a top-five player in the League right now. There's no doubt. He's unbelievable. He's big, he can skate, he's got hands, he's physical. There's nothing that he can't do. He's been a huge go-to guy for us."
The Red Wings -- in search of their second straight Stanley Cup championship and fifth in 12 seasons -- can close out this second round with a win in Game 6 at Anaheim on Tuesday night.
As they aim to oust the Ducks, they'll have "The Mule" on their side.
"We're going to give it our best shot to get it done," Franzen said. "If we can keep it to six games, it would be a lot better than having to go to a seventh. We're going to do our best and hopefully we get a win."
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He didn't score on the play, but Pavel Datsyuk had quite an entertaining shift midway through the second period that culminated with an attempt to score from behind the net. Datsyuk, a Hart Trophy finalist, softly flipped the puck in the air and tried to put it off the back of Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. The puck went over Hiller, however, and Anaheim was finally able to clear the zone.
Detroit rookie Justin Abdelkader, who picked up his first career NHL point and had a game-high nine hits in just 6:32 of ice time in his postseason debut.
Not only did the Red Wings hold a 14-3 edge in the shots on goal department after the first period, but Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula both rang shots off the goal post in the opening 20 minutes. Niklas Kronwall also hit the post late in the third period.
Johan Franzen's goal at 3:23 of the second period was his 18th goal in his last 19 playoff games and 20th in 25 contests.
If the Ducks hope to even this series on Tuesday and force a seventh game, coach Randy Carlyle may want to think about placing Bobby Ryan back on the top line alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Ryan Carter, who has been skating on the top line since the middle of Game 4, was held to one shot on goal on Sunday, while Getzlaf had his eight-game point streak snapped.
1 - 0 DET
2 - 0 DET
2 - 1 DET
3 - 1 DET
4 - 1 DET