When the Detroit Red Wings needed a big goal late in the regular season and early in the playoffs en route to their 2008 Stanley Cup victory, Johan Franzen was most often the player who provided it.
The reigning champs were 20 minutes away from starting their 2008-09 season with an 0-2 record until Franzen struck, then struck again. The fourth-year forward affectionately known as “The Mule” carried the Wings on his back with a pair of third-period goals that led them to a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place on Saturday night.
Ottawa goaltender Martin Gerber finished with 38 saves, but could only get a piece of Franzen’s shot from the right side with 1:17 remaining. The puck trickled into the net inside the left post. It was the 14th career game-winning goal for Franzen, who had six of them last March, when he broke a franchise record for game-winners in a month — a mark formerly held by hockey legend Gordie Howe and current teammate Henrik Zetterberg.
"If you don't shoot, you don't score," Franzen said. "I saw it all the way and I saw that spin on it. It hit the top of his pad and kept that momentum and it went right by the post. It was a lucky one."
Franzen scored 15 of his 27 goals last season in Detroit’s final 16 games prior to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He led the Wings in the postseason with 13 goals, despite missing six games due to concussion-like symptoms. Seeing that kind of production out of Franzen again told coach Mike Babcock that he's back to doing what he does best.
"I didn’t think the Mule was quite like he was in exhibition and the first two games, so I was really happy for him that he was able to snap some," Babcock said. "The Mule's gotta understand that the reason he's so good is because he's big and physical — so he's got to be big and physical, and the rest of the stuff will come."
Valtteri Filppula also scored and Chris Osgood made 20 saves for Detroit, which raised its 11th Stanley Cup banner on Thursday only to disappoint the Joe Louis Arena crowd with a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Babcock didn't want any part of an 0-2 start.
"It was a good game for us to find a way to win, and it was important that we had to really work hard to do it," Babcock said. "We need to find our work ethic and our passion again. It doesn't carry over from year to year. You’ve got to find it again, and I thought we took a good step here tonight."
On this night it was Detroit's turn to play spoiler by ruining Ottawa's home opener. The Senators returned to North America after earning three of a possible four points in their Bridgestone NHL Premiere series against Pittsburgh in Stockholm, and held a pair of one-goal leads thanks to Alexandre Picard and Nick Foligno.
But their 2-1 advantage evaporated at 11:16 of the third when Franzen scored off a quick transition. Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom initiated the play with a pass to Zetterberg, who tipped the puck ahead. Franzen gathered in the pass and drove down the left side, beating Gerber with a wrist shot into the top right corner from the left circle.
"Some of the things we talked about after game one — our counterattack wasn't as quick as we wanted it to be, and that's how we scored our last two goals," Lidstrom said. "Franzen got the one coming down the left side, and the second one, too, where we were trying to get puck up quick to the forwards coming with speed."
Picard capitalized 6:22 into the game after penalties to Daniel Cleary and Andreas Lilja gave the Senators an extended 5-on-3 advantage. Acquired prior to this season from Ottawa with Filip Kuba in exchange for Andrej Meszaros, Picard ripped a shot from the right point off a return feed from Kuba to open the scoring.
Filppula got the Wings even less than five minutes later, finishing a 3-on-2 rush by taking Mikael Samuelsson’s crossing pass and beating Gerber inside the right post at 11:01.
Foligno gave the Senators the lead after 40 minutes by scoring with 1:59 left in the middle period. The son of former NHL star Mike Foligno skated to the net and got the puck past Osgood despite the defensive efforts of Filppula and Niklas Kronwall.
"I just tried to make a move and they got me, and then I decided to squeak through them and just made an extra effort, and luckily it went in," Foligno said. "I was happy to put us up, but it was unfortunate that we lost."
Ottawa played without captain Daniel Alfredsson, who is expected to be out for two weeks after arthroscopic surgery Friday to remove a bone chip from his right knee. Dany Heatley wore the "C" for the Senators, who lost 11 of the 14 games last season in which Alfredsson did not play.
Material from wire services was used in this report.