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With Franzen, Red Wings are armed and dangerous

by Brian Compton

Johan Franzen leads the Red Wings in scoring after the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Johan Franzen highlights
If you asked most prognosticators which member of the Detroit Red Wings would be the most dangerous in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, few – if any -- would have chosen Johan Franzen.

Granted, Franzen was scorching-hot down the stretch of the regular season and finished the 2007-08 campaign with 27 goals. But considering the Presidents’ Trophy winners boast the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, it’s hard to imagine that Franzen would lead the team in scoring after the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“Obviously, he’s been on a run for a good period of time,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “We’re fortunate to have him. He’s really come into his own over the three years he’s been here, from basically going from a guy we thought was going to play on our minor-league team to now. (He’s) a significant factor on our team offensively, defensively, on the power play and on the penalty kill.”

Franzen was almost personally responsible for the Red Wings’ four-game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference semifinals, scoring a whopping nine goals in those four contests. In two of those games, Franzen recorded hat tricks.

His production in this postseason is simply evidence of the firepower Detroit possesses. It also has eased the pressure for stars such as Zetterberg and Datsyuk, who combined for 189 points during the regular season.

“I think in the playoffs, you need to spread the scoring around a little bit,” said Zetterberg, who has seven goals and six assists in the playoffs. “You need to have secondary scoring. The line with Franzen, Filpo (Valtteri Filppula) and (Mikael) Samuelsson has really been good for us. They’ve been really good on the power play and 5-on-5. If you want to go deep in playoffs, you have to have good depth. We’ve have that so far and, hopefully, we’ll continue doing that.”

Franzen’s output is similar to the performance of Philadelphia’s R.J. Umberger, who has nine goals in 12 playoff games after scoring only 13 times during the regular season. Eight of Umberger’s postseason goals came during the Flyers’ series win against the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens.

It’s that type of grit that is always handy -- and necessary -- to be successful in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fortunately, teams such as Detroit, Philadelphia and Dallas didn’t lose sight of that while constructing their rosters.

 “In the playoffs, you see guys like Brenden Morrow having a huge impact, or Umberger having a huge impact or ‘The Mule’ having an impact,” Babcock said. “Size and grit help out your offensive and defensive situations at this time of the year.

“It’s real important for every team that (is) continuing to play. Every team’s real good and every team’s deep. You can’t do it with just one group picking you up. Everyone’s got to pick you up. You’ve got to spread the scoring out a little bit.”

In Franzen’s case, the 28-year-old seemed to pick up his game right around the same time that the Red Wings lost Tomas Holmstrom to a strained groin in early March. Since then, he’s scored 26 goals in 26 games.

“He’s been really important for us,” Zetterberg said. “He’s playing great. I think it all started when Holmstrom went down, and he’s keeping it going in the playoffs. He’s a big body, but he’s really skilled, too. He’s always making the right play. He’s got a lot of confidence and it’s great to see the puck go in for him.”

It’s also great for the Red Wings, who open the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit took three of four from Dallas during the regular season, but the teams haven’t seen each other since March 13 -- right around the same time Franzen started doing his Wayne Gretzky impersonation.

“He’s certainly been pumping the goals in with regularity,” Stars goalie Marty Turco said of Franzen. “Everybody’s taken notice of him scoring the goals. We’ve talked a lot here about how he’s scoring and what you can do (to prevent it). He’s got great net presence. His skill has always been underrated.”

His work ethic, however, is often times applauded. Turco is prepared to have plenty of traffic created in front of him during this best-of-seven series, and Franzen is most dangerous from in close.

 “Their willingness to get to the front of the net is important, especially at this time of the year,” Turco said. “That’s going to be a factor in this series – the ability to battle in front and for me to see pucks. We don’t expect anybody to cool down over there. We expect their best. We look forward to that challenge.”

At least the Stars won’t be blindsided. Coach Dave Tippett is fully aware of the remarkable season Franzen is enjoying and knows how successful the Wings’ forward has been at redirecting pucks into the net. It will be up to Tippett’s defensemen to keep the ever-so-dangerous Franzen away from the goal crease.

“He’s a big guy that creates a lot of space around the front of the net,” Tippett said. “The thing that I’m impressed with the most about him is his ability to find loose pucks and deflect pucks. I think he’s got 11 goals, and about half of them are on deflections or bouncing pucks. He tracks down a lot of pucks and we’re certainly going to have to be aware of him in front of the net.” 
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