DETROIT - Johan Franzen is on quite the scoring tear.
The Detroit Red Wings winger has 27 goals in 27 games since March 2, including 12 in his team's 11 playoff games.
The six-foot-three Swede has scored in each of the last five games. His goal during a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars in the NHL's Western Conference final opener Thursday gave him a share of the club record with Gordie Howe, who went five in a row in 1949 and in 1964, and with Ted Lindsay, who did it in 1952. He'd already broken a long-standing Howe record for most goals in a four-game series by potting nine in a second-round sweep of Colorado.
"I don't think anybody, including Johan, if somebody had said he would be leading the National Hockey League in scoring today. . . nobody would have bet on that," says coach Mike Babcock. "Yet, in saying that, he's been excellent. He's strong and he can be physical."
Franzen is a late bloomer in terms of hockey talent. He's 29. He was 25 before any NHL team signed him. The Red Wings' European scouts outflanked the opposition yet again.
Franzen was one of six Swedes in Detroit's lineup Thursday.
Dallas goaltender Marty Turco now is 0-8-2 in career NHL decisions in Detroit.
As much as he says the past is not a confidence eroder for him, the lack of success in Joe Louis Arena has to be eating away at him. He insists, however, he won't let the big fat wins zero affect his play. Neither will his teammates let one loss - 4-1 in Game 1 Thursday - get them down.
"This isn't a group that gets frustrated very easily," he says. "We've been through quite a bit already in these playoffs never mind the whole year and years prior.
"We're going to keep forging ahead and make the necessary adjustments to be a lot better in our own end. Our focus is on what's going on in (the Stars dressing room) and not on what they're doing. We'll play a lot better and start to figure things out."
Kirk Maltby got back into Detroit's lineup at the expense of buddy Darren McCarty.
Maltby hadn't played in this post-season while rehabbing from a hamstring injury but coach Mike Babcock put him in and deleted McCarty for Game 1 of the NHL's Western Conference final Thursday night. Detroit won 4-1.
McCarty is a fan favourite for his take-no-prisoners style and for his impressive comeback when it appeared his career was done after being let go by Calgary last year. Babcock wanted to get the quicker Maltby back on the ice and somebody had to be yanked.
"You don't want to take anybody out but it's the nature of the beast," Maltby said after practice Friday.
Babcock said he made his decision without letting emotions enter the equation.
"It's just about winning," said Babcock. "It's not about Darren, and it's not about me.
"It's about the Detroit Red Wings. You make a decision. You hope it's the right decision. You don't always know. It doesn't mean that Mac's not important. It doesn't mean he's not part of the team. It just means that we felt this was the best decision."
McCarty took it well, as Babcock expected.
"It's about the team," said the coach. "Pro sports is always like that.
"The best pros handle it well and help their team and empower their team to be better, and Mac is like that."
The Red Wings defenceman with the 55 on his back is Niklas Kronwall, and not Niklas Kronvall as the NHL indicates.
The league uses Kronvall in its printed stats and on game scorescheets.
"In my passport, it's with a 'V,"' he explains. "We never bothered to change it (because) you have to go through paperwork and all that, but our family has been using a 'W' for four generations now.
"We just never bothered changing the passport. All my papers and bank accounts back home, it's all with a 'W.' I guess the NHL goes by the passport."
It's Kronwall over his dressing room stall and in printed team material.
"It doesn't really matter to me," says the hard-hitting Swede.
Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios, Toronto's Jason Blake and Edmonton's Fernando Pisani were named finalists for the Masterton Trophy on Friday.
"I've been around a long time," says Chelios. "Perseverance I guess would be the word, or tenaciousness.
"It's a great honour."
One player from each of the 30 teams was nominated. The sportsmanship award will be handed out during the NHL awards ceremonies next month.
Detroit has won nine games this post-season, leaving it seven short of winning the Stanley Cup, but they're over the halfway hump.
"You don't look ahead too far but I think when you get into the conference finals and it's down to four teams then, obviously, there's light at the end of the tunnel," says Chelios. "By the same token, you've got to keep things on an even keel and worry about the task at hand. That's the next game."
It's been six years since the 46-year-old blue-liner wrapped his arms around the silver championship trophy. How badly does he want to do it again - perhaps for the last time?
"I couldn't be happier to be in this fight," he said. "It's always the most exciting time of the year so, hopefully, we can just keep going and have a lot of success here."
This is a stronger Red Wings lineup than the one that lost the conference final to Anaheim last spring.
"We've got very good chemistry," says Chelios. "Having Zetterberg and Datsyuk developing the way they have into top players in the league and surprises like Filppula and Franzen coming along . . . right now everything seems to be paying off and we're playing with a lot of confidence."
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