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Wings sweep Avs, advance to West final

by John Kreiser

Johan Franzen's nine goals in the series matched Colorado's total, and his three goals in Game 4 made him the first player with two hat tricks in one series since Jari Kurri did it for Edmonton in 1985.
WATCH highlights from the Red Wings' win
The Detroit Red Wings were the only one of three teams seeking a second-round sweep to succeed — and they made it look easy.

Johan Franzen had his second hat trick of the series as the Wings completed a four-game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night with an 8-2 victory. Henrik Zetterberg added two goals and two assists as Detroit blew the game open with three goals in less than four minutes beginning late in the first period.

The Presidents’ Trophy winners will get a few days off after their first sweep since 2000 before opening the Western Conference final against Dallas or San Jose. The Stars can advance with a victory in Game 5 at San Jose on Friday night.

The injury-riddled Avs, playing without Peter Forsberg, Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski, had hopes of forcing a fifth game in this series. Despite being badly outshot, they were tied 1-1 with less than two minutes to go in the first period before the Wings used an amazing display of skill to end Colorado’s hopes while compiling the biggest single-game offensive performance of this year’s Playoffs.

"We said we really wanted to concentrate on what we could do," Detroit forward Kris Draper said. "We knew they had injuries, but we still played hard and were rewarded. We wanted to end this series at the first crack."

Wings coach Mike Babcock knew his team wasn’t seeing Colorado at its best.

''I'm not taking anything away from what we did,” he said, “but their team was depleted by the end here.”

Tomas Holmstrom broke the tie by finishing off a 2-on-1 break at 18:34 and Franzen got his first of the night 47 seconds later to make it 3-1. Zetterberg scored a power-play goal 2:15 into the second and made it 5-1 with a spectacular rebound goal 3½ minutes later. Two more goals by Franzen gave him a League-high 11 this postseason — and a record-setting nine in the four-game series.

''He's been great. He's a big, big man with lots of skill. We're lucky to have him,'' Wings coach Mike Babcock said. ''He's been big now for a long time. He broke Gordie's record in March, and then he broke his record here today. So good for him. If you're going to break records, you might as well break Gordie Howe's.''

Franzen broke Howe’s team record for goals in a series, set when Mr. Hockey scored eight in the 1949 semifinals, and his 11 goals in 10 games are the most in one playoff year in franchise history. He’s the first Red Wing to get two hat tricks in a series since Norm Ullman in 1964, and the first player on any team to do it since Edmonton’s Jari Kurri in 1985.

“Today I got some open nets from my teammates,” said the Swedish forward, whose nine goals matched Colorado’s entire production in the four games. “I have to thank them for the goals.”

Though two of the games ended 4-3, the series was rarely competitive — unlike the teams’ five meetings between 1996 and 2002, which were some of the hardest-fought pre-Final series in NHL history. This time, Detroit led after every period, trailed for less than eight minutes in the four games, and drove Avs starter Jose Theodore from the net in three of the four games, including this one.

“They played well. They’ll be dangerous,” Avs coach Joel Quenneville said of the Wings.

The Avs, who beat Minnesota in the opening round, were swept for only the second time since moving from Quebec to Denver in 1995.

"It's just something you can't control," said defenseman John-Michael Liles. "It's a tough loss. Just nothing else to say. They're a very good team and they definitely beat us. This is so hard to swallow."

Theodore gave up a bad goal 4:33 into the game to give the Red Wings an early lead. Mikael Samuelsson’s nothing-special slap shot from the top of right circle should have been stopped easily — but it went through Theodore’s pads and trickled into the net.

Colorado got a break when Holmstrom’s penalty for tripping in the offensive zone 84 seconds after Samuelsson’s goal gave the Avalanche a power play, and they wasted little time getting even. Joe Sakic’s passout from behind the net to the left of Osgood found Tyler Arnason, whose quick one-timer at 6:51 tied the score at 1-1 on the Avs’ first shot of the game. It was Colorado’s third power-play goal in its last five opportunities.

Then the bottom fell out amid a blizzard of highlight-film goals.

The Avs made a mistake that wound up in their net at 18:34 when defenseman Scott Hannan got caught pinching, leaving Adam Foote to defend against a 2-on-1. Zetterberg waited for Foote to commit, then fed Holmstrom for a 10-foot wrister into the open right side.

The Wings hit the Avs again with 38.4 seconds to play in the period after a neutral zone turnover led to another odd-man rush. Brad Stuart’s breakout pass found Franzen, who played give-and-go with Valtteri Filppula before Detroit’s hottest scorer beat Theodore with a quick wrist shot from the right of the slot.

“We tried to create, we gave up some 2-on-1s and they capitalized,” Sakic said. “We got caught and they ran away from us.”

The Wings, who outshot Colorado 15-5 in the first period, opened the second period on a power play when Kurt Sauer was called for slashing at the 20-minute mark.

Peter Budaj replaced Theodore after one period and made a good stop in the second when Franzen put the puck into the crease and Dan Cleary tried to jam it through the goaltender. Ben Guite gave the Wings another power play when he shot the puck into the crowd at 1:46. Detroit didn’t capitalize during the brief two-man advantage, but controlled the puck while skating 5-on-4 and made it 4-1 at 2:15 when Zetterberg’s right-point blast went past Budaj, who was completely screened by Holmstrom.

The Wings kept the pressure on and were rewarded again at 5:45 on a spectacular goal by Zetterberg, who was going airborne when he backhanded his own rebound into the top of the net.

Not even having to kill another penalty could slow down the Wings, who made it 6-1 at 11:37 when Franzen got his second of the night by finishing off Zetterberg’s pass on a 2-on-1 break. He completed his hat trick at 17:15 with a power-play deflection of Nicklas Lidstrom’s shot.

''I got really lucky,'' Franzen said. ''I think they gave up after 4-1, so I got a couple of freebies.''

After two periods, the Wings had outshot Colorado 35-17 — and outplayed the Avs by much more than that.

Samuelsson got his second of the night at 8:02 of the third period, deflecting Jiri Hudler’s pass out of midair and past Budaj from just outside the crease. Liles’ goal at 10:26 during a two-man advantage did little more than give the fans left at the Pepsi Center something to cheer about.

The fans who stayed to the end also cheered Sakic, who was on the ice in the final seconds of what might have been his final NHL game. Colorado’s captain, a free agent this summer, missed 38 games at age 38 with a sports hernia this season and isn’t sure if he'll return for a 20th NHL season.

“Right now, I’m going to take some time and reflect,” he said when asked about his plans for next season.

Forsberg, also a free agent, said he wants to return to Colorado next season — health permitting. Otherwise, retirement beckons.

''Just too many injuries,'' Forsberg said. ''If it doesn't get solved, that would be it, but we'll see what happens.''

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.

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