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Franzen sparks first-period surge

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Johan Franzen managed to get under the skin of the Panthers' Willie Mitchell in the first period, leading to a Red Wings' power play. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Though a major power outage in downtown Detroit left Joe Louis Arena in the dark for a large part of Tuesday, one thing was clear – the Red Wings needed Johan Franzen to be a net-front presence once the lights were back online.

Coach Mike Babcock gave Franzen an ultimatum: be a physical force in front of Florida goalie Roberto Luongo or he’d look for someone else to get the job done.

Franzen was elevated to the top line with Pavel Datsyuk and captain Henrik Zetterberg because of the shoulder injury sustained by Justin Abdelkader during the second period of Sunday’s 5-3 win over Vancouver.

“I’ll move Mule with Z and Pav and Mule’s got to be at the net front,” said Babcock, after the Wings’ morning skate was canceled. “That’s a priority for him. If not, (Tomas) Jurco will go there.”

Franzen was a menace early on to the Panthers, causing a raucous in the offensive zone that led to captain Willie Mitchell rough-housing with the Wings’ forward in front of Florida’s crease. The exchange led to Mitchell picking up a double-minor for high-sticking and roughing at 4:25 of the opening period.

“He was a little over excited there,” Franzen said. “They wanted to play hard. The ref called four minutes on him. Good for us.”

It certainly wasn’t the best decision that Mitchell could have made, especially since it jump started the Red Wings’ power play, which has been on a roll since early November.

The Wings didn’t disappoint, as Tomas Tatar scored his second power-play goal of the season on the second half of the double minor. Pavel Datsyuk’s shot from the left circle struck Tatar’s stick flush on the blade. From there, the puck zipped through Jurco’s legs and over Luongo’s left catching glove. Datsyuk later scored to trim the Wings' deficit to 4-2 in the third.

“He’s making those plays and he’s taking those guys and they’re mad at him because he is heavy and he’s tough to take out around the crease,” Tatar said. “Mule’s a good player and you saw that that guy lost it and Mule stayed calm and we got a goal from it.”

Since Nov. 5, Detroit’s power play is 18-for-62 in the past 13 games. The 17 PPGs scored by Detroit were the most by any NHL club last month. The Wings’ power play has scored in five consecutive games and eight of the past nine.

However, the Wings couldn’t overcome a mountain of mistakes and lost 4-3 to the Panthers.

“We never executed. When you don’t execute you’re ultra-slow,” Babcock said. “We’re a way quicker team than we used to be, we looked slow tonight. We didn’t execute, we turned the puck over. We had our count around 20 turnovers. You have no chance. But mentally we weren’t engaged. So whatever we did today wasn’t the right thing.”

The Wings will now play three games in four nights beginning Thursday at home against the Dallas Stars.

“We have to regroup and get back at ’er,” Babcock added. “We’re going to have an off-day tomorrow, so we’ll get refreshed mentally, so there’s no excuse mentally or physically and we’ll get back at it.”

The Panthers scored four straight goals, and after Sean Bergenheim put them up by a goal at 12:21 of the second period, Babcock juggled his lines, replacing Franzen with Jurco, as he promised.

For the rest of the game, Franzen played mainly on a line with center Darren Helm and forward Gustav Nyquist.

Though, Franzen rejoined the top line for the final minute of regulation. His presence around the net led to the Wings’ third goal, distracting defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, which left Nyquist wide open in the slot. Franzen earned an assist for his efforts.

As for the game, there was some concern early in the day on whether it would be played after a wide-spread power outage affected much of downtown Detroit. The outage was limited mainly to large commercial and municipal buildings, including the 35-year-old Joe Louis Arena.

But the Wings weren’t willing to use the misfortune disguise an overall poor team performance.

“I don’t want to make excuses,” Tatar said. “They didn’t have a morning skate either and it can’t be an excuse for us.”

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