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Franzen: Stubborn as he wants to be

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Riding a stationary bike during a game – especially one as important as Wednesday’s Western Conference quarterfinals opener – can sullen the mood for any player.

But for Henrik Zetterberg, the monotony of pedaling in front of a TV screen while the rest of the team is engaged on the ice was smashed midway through the second period when his friend returned to his playoff form.

“Absolutely, I was excited for him,” Zetterberg said. “I was on the bike and just to see his facial expression after he scored, you could see that he was really happy and relieved. That’s what we need. We need him to get going and that was a great start.”

Of course, Zetterberg was speaking of none other then Johan Franzen, the Red Wings’ go-to guy when the stakes are at the highest: Stanley Cup playoff time.

Forget that the Mule only had two goals in the final 27 games of the regular-season. Forget that the media labeled the lack of offensive production a slump.

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Those closest to Franzen know him as an introvert. But when it comes to productivity, the Mule is as loud as they come in the playoffs. His goal and assist in the Wings’ 4-2 win in Game 1 spoke volumes and just added to his growing playoff legacy, which now stands at 71 points in 76 career postseason games.

“He hasn’t been scoring lately, but he’s been making plays for us,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I think some people try to overlook that. It’s not like he’s been playing bad for some reason. He’s been setting up other guys and he’s a helluva player. But of course, with that shot of his we all know that he can get on a pretty good roll in the playoffs. And I thought he had a great start in Game 1.”

The sports world is filled with players who consistently produce each and every game night. But only a handful up their game in the postseason. That’s Johan Franzen. Even though his goal-scoring slipped in the final quarter of the campaign, he still led the Wings with 28 goals this season.

“For him it just seems when the playoffs come around – and I hope I’m not jinxing it now – but he has that extra dimension where he goes full out every shift and anytime he gets it he shoots it,” Kronwall said. “That’s what we need from him.”

Franzen is now traveling in the fastlane with such past pro sports playoff legends as Wings great Gordie Howe, New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson, and NFL quarterbacks Bart Starr and Joe Montana.

Franzen’s 0.934 points per playoff game are astonishing, leaving one teammate dumbfounded this week at the news of just how vast Mule’s spring success has been.

“Wow! That’s outstanding,” said Kronwall when told of the statistic. “I didn’t know that. I don’t know how to explain it. Some guys just have that little extra edge; I don’t know how to explain it.”

Franzen’s points per game puts him in exclusive NHL playoff company. He currently sits sixth among active players, trailing only Sidney Crosby (1.323), Evgeni Malkin (1.177), Danny Briere (1.012), Brad Richards (0.984) and Zetterberg (0.938).
Of his teammates, Franzen spends most of his time away from home with Zetterberg. They often head out to dinner together on the road and hit the links back home in Sweden in the summer. But the one thing that Zetterberg doesn’t do is sugar-coat his description of his friend, calling him a “man of few words” and “a loner.”

“He likes to be by himself,” Zetterberg said. “In the summertime, where he has his place back home, it’s basically in the middle of nowhere and he enjoys strolling in the woods and being by himself. That’s the kind of guy he is. But at the same time, he has a real soft side, too, and he’s a good friend, who will always be behind you when you need him.”

If being left alone means scoring points in 13 consecutive playoff games – his current point streak – then his teammates will continue to give the Mule plenty of alone time.

“Just leave him alone; talk positive things about him,” Zetterberg said. “He has a little bit on the grumpy side every once in a while, and you just have to find a way to cheer him up.”

One cheerful moment came when the Wings signed Franzen to an 11-year contract extension in 2009. But in doing so, Zetterberg said, it added more pressure on his friend.

“I think with his contract and the way he’s been playing the last year there’s more weight on his shoulders,” Zetterberg said. “He feels that responsibility and when he thinks that he doesn’t score enough, sometimes it can be tough. It’s kind of a new situation for him, and I think he’s learning to deal with that.”

Besides his playoff reputation, Franzen is widely considered among Wings teammates to be one of the best golfers in the locker room.

“I will say he’s one of the best on the team," Zetterberg said. "He’s a good, solid golfer. He’s one of those guys who gets better the more he plays. So usually by the end of the summer he’s really fun to watch on the golf course. … He refuses to give you strokes on the course, so it’s impossible to beat him.”

Kronwall added, “We play with handicaps, and if I’m a 10 handicap and he’s a six, if I beat my handicap, but I still don’t shoot lower than him, in his opinion, he still won because he shot the lowest round. He’s impossible to beat that way. You name it, he’s very stubborn.”

As long as Franzen is stubborn on opposing goalies, the Wings say he can be as cantankerous as he wants.

“He’s very down to earth, easy going, stubborn,” Kronwall said. “He’s a mule and that sums up everything. But he is a very nice guy, and gets along with everybody.”

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