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Patience is paying off for Hudler

by Lindsey Ungar / Detroit Red Wings
Hudler celebrates his Game 3 power-play goal that gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead against Nashville in the Western Conference quarterfinal.
DETROIT — On the ice, Jiri Hudler hangs out in the corners, patiently waiting to find his teammates in the perfect scoring spot.

On the scoresheet? Hudler’s nine points are sandwiched between the totals of center Pavel Datsyuk and leading-scoring defenseman Niklas Kronwall, which is good enough for fourth-place on the Red Wings, who are set to open their Western Conference finals series against Dallas on Thursday.

“I don’t know how he does it,” linemate Mark Hartigan said. “Watching it, it’s pretty neat to see.”

But Datsyuk and Kronwall average over 20 minutes a game. Hudler? He’s a fourth-liner, just cracking the 11 minute mark each playoff night.

A season ago, Hudler played just six of Detroit’s 18 playoff games. Now, in his second full season, he earns his keep on the power play working with Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen, the top goal scorer in the NHL playoffs.

But at 5-foot-10 and 182-pounds, Hudler won’t be asked to bull over anyone in the offensive zone like Franzen. Hudler uses his hockey smarts instead.

“He doesn’t over-think anything, overdo anything,” Hartigan said. “He knows what he’s doing in his head. He knows what he wants to do. And most of the time he delivers.”

Especially in the playoffs.

Hudler has seven playoff assists, which is ranked second-most on the team. He’s also one of Franzen’s main set-up men, assisting on four of Franzen’s 11 goals.

Hudler said he’s thankful for the way Franzen’s playing. But with more and more attention being paid to Franzen, does that create more chances for Hudler?

“All of us got to be the piece in the puzzle,” Hudler said. “Be a good team.”

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock seconded that sentiment.

“We're looking for everyone to score,” Babcock said of Hudler. “You don't just go out there to kill the clock.  The reason these teams (Dallas and Detroit) are here is because there are a number of people.”

INJURY UPDATE: After not skating the past two days, Valterri Filppula (leg) was back on the ice, but came off early before the Red Wings worked on the power plays and penalty kills.

His status for Game 1 is still uncertain.

“This is the first time he's skated and he responded really well,” Babcock said. “We didn't push it, so we'll see tomorrow.”

Filppula re-aggrevated a leg injury in the third period of Game 4 against Colorado. He missed practice time, but no games, in early March due to the injury.

If Filppula cannot go Thursday, it could mean the return of Kirk Maltby, who has yet to play this postseason.

MULE BREAKING OUT: Hakan Andersson, director of European scouting, was the man responsible for finding the “Mule.”

But before Franzen was drafted -- 97th overall in 2004  -- general manager Ken Holland never saw the now team-leading playoff scorer play.

“I remember seeing him during the work stoppage play a couple of games in the Swedish Elite League,” Holland said. “My first initial reaction was there was more there offensively than what he showed.”

Franzen was playing more of a defensive role at the time with the Swedish team, and earned a regular spot on the Red Wings this season playing more of a checking role.

“We really thought this was going to be a breakout year,” Holland said, referring to Franzen scoring five preseason goals in six games this season. But he suffered a knee injury in the second game of the season, which caused him to miss 10 games. Once healthy again he struggled to find a permanent role in the lineup.

As team injuries piled up in February, Franzen got more ice time — especially on the power play unit, where he took over Tomas Holmstrom’s coveted spot atop the opponent’s crease. Franzen bulleted to the top of the Red Wings’ attack with 20 points in the last 16 games of the regular-season.

Franzen’s late-season success has carried over to the playoffs, where he has 14 points in 10 games, including a pair of hat tricks in Games 2 and 4 against Colorado.

“As it turned out, obviously, it has been his breakout year,” Holland said. “We thought it was going to start in October, but his breakout year really started in March.”

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