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Mule returns with a kick & assist

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
Franzen made his return in Game 2 and made an instant impact, getting an assist on the Wings' final goal.
DETROIT -- Johan Franzen returned to action ni Game 2, and proved that he was more than ready.

Three minutes after recording his first point since May 8, Franzen was punched in the head by Pittsburgh’s Gary Roberts. A minute after that, Franzen set up a scoring chance, crashed the net, then started a shoving match with Maxime Talbot.

Franzen was awarded a two minute penalty for roughing, but the message he sent was well worth the time in the box. The Joe Louis Arena crowd fell silent after the Roberts hit, with Franzen lying on the ice clutching his face. Franzen told the Red Wings, the Penguins, and the crowd that he was fine by coming right back out and agitating his opponent.

"I've got to protect myself,” Franzen said. “He's coming at me so I've got to get my hands up to protect myself. I don't blame him but maybe he should have a penalty."

After the game, Roberts said that the hit to the head was unintentional.

“He actually tried to throw a shoulder at me,” Roberts said. “I think I was trying to backcheck and he threw a shoulder into me. And my shoulder hit him, maybe hit him in the side of the face. But there was no intent there.”

A TV replay cleary showed Roberts throw a punch that contacted with Franzen's head.

Franzen missed six games due to concussion-like symptoms, dating back to Game 2 in the Dallas series.  Franzen had been the hottest player in NHL during the first and second rounds, before the symptoms took him out of the line-up before the second game of the Dallas conference finals series. Before the injury, Franzen had scored 27 goals in 27 games, dating back to the Red Wings’ March 2 game at Buffalo. Over that time period, Franzen had 11 game-winning goals – six in the regular-season, and five in the post-season.

“Obviously a lot has been made about Franzen, concussions, and we didn't really have him for the whole Dallas series and missed him for Game 1,” Wings center Kris Draper said. “They took some liberties, shots to the head, and the refs jumped in and kept giving them penalties. You have to protect the players. There's no need for stuff like that."

Franzen didn’t find the back of the net, but he did record an assist on the Red Wings' game-sealing goal in the third, and had three hits in the contest. He also found his way back to the front of the opposition’s goal, screening Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on multiple occasions.

“I didn’t have a plan. I was just going to play him,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s fine. He’s in good shape. And we didn’t worry much about that.”

The hard-nosed right winger showed his grit all game, whether it meant by getting up after being knocked down, or knocking somebody else over. He introduced himself to Tyler Kennedy multiple times, and knocked over Evgeni Malkin and sent him sprawling into the boards.

Franzen’s pass to Valtteri Filppula sealed the deal for the Wings, giving them a 3-0 lead nine minutes into the third. The Mule found Filppula streaking behind the defense, and made a pass between two Pittsburgh defenders.

When Game 2 was over, the statistics spoke for themselves: Franzen was a plus-2, with one point and two minor penalties. He skated for 16:21 on 21 shifts, and had two shots, not including a slap shot in the first that he ripped over Fleury’s head.

"I felt OK,” Franzen said. “I felt a little bit better than I expected. So it's good to be back in again. I really missed it. It's a lot of fun. I usually take a nap but I didn't get any sleep. I was excited. My first final. A lot of adrenaline going, a lot of fun. I'm just thrilled to be playing."

And Franzen was in the middle of the pile on the last minute fight, after Chris Osgood was hit by Petr Sykora.

Perhaps a final statement that even punches to head can’t keep the Mule down.

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