NHL

Playoff goal scoring leader Johan Franzen close to returning

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The Canadian Press
5/25/2008 4:08:57 PM
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DETROIT - As if they don't already have enough firepower, the Detroit Red Wings might be ready to reinsert Johan Franzen into their lineup.

With Franzen missing a sixth straight game to allow concussion-like symptoms to dissipate, the Red Wings got a two-goal jump start from Mikael Samuelsson on their way to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opener of the Stanley Cup final on Saturday.

Franzen said after going all out in practice Sunday that he believes he'll be fit to return for Game 2 on Monday night, but he light-heartedly suggested coach Mike Babcock might not be able to find room for him.

"Maybe we're better off without me, I don't know," he said with a grin before stripping off his pads. "I hope I can get my spot back, but you never know."

He'll consult with team medical experts after the morning skate Monday. He could be cleared to play if he doesn't have a headache, and he says he hasn't had one in more than a week.

"It's going to take maybe one more practice to get the legs going like they were before," he said. "If I get into Game 2, I'll start getting the timing back."

Franzen had 12 goals in 11 games before sitting out. Fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg got his 12th in Game 1 to grab a share of the league post-season goal scoring lead.

If it isn't one Swede, it's another. The Detroit Red Wings' wealth of Scandinavian talent is a bottomless well.

Samuelsson had only two goals in 16 games before breaking loose Saturday.

"I hadn't scored in a while but you just try to chip in," he said. "It's not only scoring.

"Obviously you want to score every game you're out there but there's more to it than that. Everybody knows that. If you don't score, you try to do everything else out there."

He admits to being a streaky scorer in an up-and-down career that has included stints with San Jose, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and Florida. The Penguins traded him to Florida in 2003 in a deal to move up in the draft so they could select Marc-Andre Fleury, the goalie who was victimized by Samuelsson on Saturday night. Samuelsson went back to Europe for two years and was playing in Switzerland before signing as a free agent with Detroit in 2005.

"This is a good fit for me, and I play with really good players, too," he said.

Jarkko Ruutu took a run at him late in the game Saturday.

"I guess he was a little frustrated," said Samuelsson. "That's no big deal."

What was a big deal during Game 2 was Detroit's defensive play. Forecheckers drove Pittsburgh skaters crazy, forcing turnovers that were turned into goals.

"The turnovers killed us and we have to do better in that department," said the Penguins' Marian Hossa.

Zetterberg was used opposite Sidney Crosby, and Kris Draper was used opposite Evgeni Malkin, and the pairings worked out wonderfully for the Red Wings.

"If you give them room, they will create some offence and you have to try to be on them all the time," said Zetterberg.

The Penguins had only seven shots on Chris Osgood during the last 40 minutes. Malkin managed only one shot on goal in the game. Pittsburgh's secondary scorers didn't pick up the slack, which is the opposite of the way things have been going for the Red Wings all through the post-season.

"I think the depth on our club will be the difference in the series," said Dan Cleary, who got Detroit's other Game 1 goal.

Besides the impact of Detroit's forechecking and the contributions of secondary scorers, it was obvious that the Red Wings had the superior blue-line corps Saturday. They have two first-class tandems in five-time Norris Trophy winner Nick Lidstrom paired with Brian Rafalski and hard-hitting Niklas Kronwall paired with Brad Stuart.

Kronwall has been rocking opposing skaters with crunching checks all spring. After missing previous playoff runs due to injuries, he's elated to be in top condition to contribute this year.

"I've always enjoyed that part of the game," he said of the physical punishment he dishes out. "It feels like this year I've taken a step forward and I'm seeing the opportunities (to hit) a little bit more."

In earning his second post-season shutout of the spring, Osgood improved to 11-2 with a 1.48 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. The way he's altered his style to incorporate butterfly leg movements has made him a standout netminder at age 35 - just a few years after being let go by the Red Wings, whom he helped win the Stanley Cup in 1998.

"I don't think I'd be 15 years deep (into the career) if I couldn't play," he says.

He's as unassuming as any athlete could be.

"I'm just a quiet guy," he says. "I don't like bragging about myself.

"Save that for another day."

His play this spring is making him a favourite along with Lidstrom for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He's become the fans' hero.

"I'm a simple guy who loves to play for the Red Wings," he says in continuing to deflect praise. "I play hard every night and I think the fans like that.

"I give them my all every time I step on the ice. I love when they chant my name. It pumps me up and gives me energy."

Johan Franzen (Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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