Johan Franzen should wear a sign that reads, “Don’t get me started.” He is the fastest way to trouble if you’re the opposing playoff team, worse than a wrong turn into a bad neighborhood, as tough to avoid as a freight train on a greased track. Your best bet is to treat him like a hibernating bear: step quietly and try not to wake him up.
Even that may not help. Because Franzen has the same internal clock as those furry forest beasts. Springtime comes, he yawns, scratches his red hair, stretches that beefy 6-foot-3 frame and says, “Me hungry.”
And look out!
On Wednesday night, Franzen, who’d had a sleepy hockey winter, continued his off-the-charts spring trend of averaging nearly a point in every NHL playoff game of his career. In the second period, he took the puck after a Phoenix turnover and wristed a screaming shot so precise it could have knocked the meat out of a sandwich.
It found the upper corner of the net, behind a helpless Ilya Bryzgalov, and the Red Wings had a lead they never relinquished in this playoff opener.
More important, they had a wonderful sign of the season.
The beast had awoken.
These numbers don’t lie
“How do you always turn it on in the playoffs?” someone asked Franzen after the 4-2 victory.
“We turn it on,” he corrected. “The team turns it on.”
“But you have a 13-game point streak in the playoffs.”
“You’re still counting that?” He grinned. “Stop doing that.”
Right. Might as well ignore a comet. Pretend an avalanche is just some loose snow. Franzen may be the “aw, shucks” type (except he would never say “aw, shucks” coming from Vetlanda, Sweden), but his numbers are insane. He has 71 points in 76 career playoff games. During the regular season, he averages a point in 55% of his games. During the postseason, it’s 93%.
“During the season,” he admitted, “you feel like you have something to play for, but it’s not the same….
“We do a good job of taking care of business, but some nights that’s all there is, just business.”
It was lots more than business Wednesday. It was the hiked-up energy of a Wings team that treats the playoffs like a birthright. It was that maniacal noise that makes Joe Louis Arena so great. It was goalie Jimmy Howard going brick-like after allowing an early score, stopping shots he had no business stopping and pretty much all the ones he did.
And it was Franzen, the Mule, active all game long. On Pavel Datsyuk’s second-period goal – a wraparound faster than a rodeo rope – it was Franzen who drew two defenders by driving the net, which left Datsyuk uncovered for the ricochet.
Franzen had several near-scores. He finished with two points, five shots, four hits and a block.
And the most wicked goal of the night.
“That was a rocket,” coach Mike Babcock said.
There’s no time to let up
Franzen earned his nickname because he shouldered the load. It would be great to see that again, especially with Henrik Zetterberg out. The Wings don’t just need to win this first-round series, they need to win it as fast as possible, get rest, try to get Zetterberg the time he needs. It’s hard to imagine them reaching the Stanley Cup finals without Zetterberg’s offensive and defensive talent, and the less wear and tear on the team, the less likely they will have to rush him back.
Franzen, 31, is one of the few NHL players capable of making up the difference by himself. Remember, this is a man who recently had five goals in one game and almost set the record for fastest hat trick in a playoff contest.
“When he scores once, there’s usually more to come,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said.
That’s what they’re counting on in the round building by the Detroit River. It’s an amazing statistic, you know, our hockey team making the playoffs 20 years in a row. We all sort of emerge from hibernation, throw on the red-and-white sweaters and climb the JLA steps.
It is simply that time of year around here. The crowds get louder. The bears wake up. You shouldn’t get Johan Franzen started. Phoenix knew it.
It may have happened anyhow.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).