DETROIT – Gordie Howe was in the building, but Johan Franzen didn't honor him with a "Gordie Howe Hat Trick".
Instead, the "Mule" scored his sixth, seventh and eighth goals of the season for an actual hat trick to lead the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
It was Franzen's second regular-season hat trick – and first in the regular-season against the Avs – to go with a pair of three-goal games netted against Colorado in the second round of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored a pair of power-play markers in the second period to extend Detroit's lead to 3-0 and then potted his third – fourth in the past two games – unassisted late in the game into an empty net.
"That's the one I was most proud of," said Franzen, who's now got six points in Detroit's past two games – both wins after a perplexing six-game winless streak. "That was a tough one. I usually don't have a very good backhand. I think it started wide, but it started to drift sideways. I don't know how it happened, but that was a good one."
Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom and Danny Cleary scored Detroit's other two goals, while Valtteri Filppula added a pair of assists. Rookie Gabriel Landeskog and Milan Hejduk each scored for the Avalanche (7-7-1), who lost for just the second time on the road this season.
Filppula was originally given credit for Franzen's second goal, which made it 2-0 just 2:36 into the second, after he blasted a one-time feed from Jiri Hudler from the slot. Franzen, stationed in front of the net, tipped it past Colorado goalie Seymon Varlamov (13 saves) for the goal.
"It hit the tip of my blade," Franzen said. "I didn't mean to touch it. It just happened. I (told Filppula) I was sorry. I had to take it. I felt it, but I didn't see it. It was too quick, but I definitely felt it. It left a black mark on the tip of my stick."
It also left stain on the night for the Avs defense and Varlamov – who was pulled in favor of Jean-Sebastien Giguere in the second following Franzen's second goal, which came a little more than four minutes after his first. On that goal, Franzen deflected a shot by Kronwall while skating through the slot.
Since scoring just six goals during that six-game winless stretch, Detroit has now dented the net 10 times in last two games – Franzen scoring four and Lidstrom three. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who's been harping about his team going to the net more, has to be pleased.
The number of red uniforms now buzzing the net is noticeable, especially the guy wearing No.93 on his back (Franzen).
"He's a huge, gifted man who can obviously shoot the puck," Babcock said. "The puck was following him around (but) I thought Filppula was fantastic."
Getting Franzen hot is always good news for the Wings, however.
He has a knack for finding the back of the net in bunches when he's on and a habit of disappearing from the stat sheet altogether when he's off. Among the key things that Detroit needs to get back to the top of the Western Conference standings is more consistency out of Franzen – which the Wings got for the second straight game.
He now leads Detroit (7-5-1) in goals with eight – moving two ahead of the equally-hot Lidstrom, who's scored three goals in the past two games and four in the past four contests.
"I'm not hot until everyone else is hot," said Franzen, who scored five goals in a game last season before going on a long scoring slump. "When we play good, I get opportunities."
It was Lidstrom that got the scoring started for Detroit in this game. He put the Wings up 1-0 midway through the first on an unassisted goal that he scored off a blast from the slot. After a puck battle behind the Colorado net, the puck kicked to the slot and settled down perfectly for Lidstrom – who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
He unleashed a perfectly-placed slap shot to beat Varlamov high and briefly take the team's scoring lead.
"I'm just trying to jump up when the opportunity's there and try to find openings to shoot the puck when I have a chance," said Lidstrom, who's currently on pace for 36 goals – which would shatter his career high of 20 set in the 1999-2000 season. "It's just kind of a fluke that the puck's going in for me. I think we're all trying to jump up at the right moments."
Franzen's first two goals, both with the man advantage, pushed the lead to 3-0 early in the second before Landeskog finally got the Avs on the board at 8:18 with his fifth goal. It was also his first in the past seven games.
Milan Hejduk's fifth goal, which didn't happen until late in the third after Cleary scored his 100th goal as a Red Wing to make it 4-1, completed Colorado's scoring. It was the Avs' second power-play goal in three opportunities, but didn't make up for taking seven penalties and watching Detroit go 2-for-5 with the man advantage.
The loss was just the second on the road for Colorado, which fell to 1-5-1 in its last seven games – after starting the season with a 6-2-0 mark.
"There's nothing we can do about it," Avs coach Joe Sacco said. "We've put ourselves in this position. We've just got to get ready for Thursday (against the New York Islanders). You've got to dig in. What are you going to do? You can't sit here and make excuses. We know we can play better, but we've got to do it for 60 minutes. That's the key."