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Wings hope Franzen regains scoring touch

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- It was a lighthearted thought blurted out by a reporter watching the Detroit Red Wings practice for their Stanley Cup Playoffs first round series against the Phoenix Coyotes, but it was also on target.

"Remember when Johan Franzen used to score goals?" the reporter said, feigning a sigh. "Wasn't that cool?"

The Red Wings thought so -- and so did Detroit fans. Yet it's been a couple of months since goals by Franzen -- a.k.a. "The Mule" -- were happening with regularity. Franzen, who led the Red Wings in goals (28) and power-play goals (10) this season, only scored twice in 27 games after scoring five on Feb. 2 against the Ottawa Senators.

He also missed five games since that game for health reasons, including a groin injury that slowed him during the stretch run. The talent-rich Red Wings say Franzen doesn't have to do it all by himself, but they're probably going to need the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Swedish power forward to do what he does best -- score goals -- when they face the Coyotes in Game 1 on Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena (7 p.m., Versus, CBC).

"Obviously he had a real good start to the season and it didn't go as good for him here at the end, but the good thing about ‘The Mule,' is that he seems to kick it into gear at this time of year," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He's a big body and can shoot the puck. He loves to score goals and he's very capable."

He's also very important in Detroit's quest to win a 12th Stanley Cup. Detroit might be in for a tough series against the Coyotes even if Franzen can find his scoring touch.

If he can't?

That's a thought most Red Wings fans don't want to entertain. Detroit is already without leading points-scorer Henrik Zetterberg (lower body injury) for Game 1 -- if not longer. If Franzen's dry spell continues, it could put even more pressure on other forwards to compensate.

Franzen's playoff history, however, suggests scoring won't be a problem. He's scored six goals and 18 points in his last 12 playoff games and has a sterling postseason resume that he's looking to pad.

"We know he's going to show up for us in the playoffs," Tomas Holmstrom said. "Even if he doesn't score goals, he's doing a good job out there. He can still have good games by not scoring goals. Yes we need to win games, but it doesn't matter who scores the goals -- as long as you win the games."

Holmstrom would like to see Franzen fire a few more shots at the net, however.

"He's got a great shot," Holmstrom said. "Maybe he needs to get in that playoff mode and he'll start shooting the puck more."

Whether he does or not, Franzen isn't concerned by all the talk about his goal drought.

"I don't worry about it," he said after Wednesday's morning skate. "We've got 20 other guys that can score, so why bother? It's one of those games where everything comes to you. I didn't read anything into that (five-goal) game. Just a lucky game. It just happened."

Wings fans hope it starts happening again -- sooner than later. If Franzen can flip the switch like he usually does at this time of year, it very well could.

"The whole team is stepping it up and taking it to the next level and the games are tighter (in the playoffs)," said Franzen, who will play on Detroit's top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. "It's intense out there and I thrive on that. I think the team does, as well. We play better and I play better."

Modano a healthy scratch: The Red Wings coaxed 40-year old former Dallas Stars center Mike Modano away from retirement last summer with the idea of trying to bring a 12th Stanley Cup to his hometown team.

Now, Modano will watch the start of the playoffs in street clothes as a healthy scratch when the Red Wings face Coyotes on Wednesday night. Modano found out on Wednesday morning from Detroit coach Mike Babcock. Forward Drew Miller, who scored in each of Detroit's final two regular-season games, will play on the third line instead along with Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula.

"It's tough," Modano said after Wednesday's morning skate. "I totally understand it. It's up to me now, if I get the opportunity, to give them a reason not to take me back out. It's something I'll worry about when the time comes again."

After getting off to a slow start, Modano got injured just 20 games into the season when a skate blade accidentally severed a tendon in his wrist. He wasn't able to return until Feb. 26 against the Buffalo Sabres and managed just two goals and seven points in 20 games the rest of the way.

Babcock knew Modano would be disappointed, but said the team is most important.

"To me it's not about Mike Babcock or Mike's career or any of that," Babcock said. "It's about the Detroit Red Wings and we're going to do everything we can to help ourselves win. We made the best decision we could and we're moving on."

Kronwall to play: Babcock confirmed that defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who missed the last five games of the regular season with an upper body injury, would play on Wednesday night. Jakub Kindl will be a healthy scratch.

Modano no fan of Stars:
Modano was asked if he watched his former team, the Stars, collapse in the final game of the regular season and lose to the Minnesota Wild -- thus ending their bid to make the Western Conference playoff field.

Had the Stars won, they would've bumped the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks out of the playoffs. Instead, Chicago advanced to play the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks and Dallas wound up firing coach Marc Crawford on Tuesday.

Was Modano pulling for his former team to get into the field?

"No," he said, flatly. "It was unfortunate, but Minnesota played pretty well. It's tough (for Dallas). Two years in a row you don't get to the fun part of the season. They had a great first half of the year and that's what's disappointing for them, too. They were playing well and buying into the Crawford deal and then the bottom fell out. I don't know what happened there."
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