DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings are well aware of what Johan Franzen can mean to them when he’s healthy.
Franzen, 6-3, 223 pounds, can be a difference-maker, especially in the playoffs, but the Wings need Franzen now more than ever if they want to reach the playoffs for the 22nd straight season.
In 2008, Franzen had 13 goals and five assists in 16 playoff games. In 2009, he had 12 goals and 11 assists in 23 playoff games. In 2010, he had six goals and 12 assists in 12 playoff games.
Injuries have plagued the big Swede in recent years, including this season.
Franzen, 33, came into Tuesday night’s game against the Avalanche without a point in the last three games since returning from missing seven games with a hip injury. Before the injury, he had also gone three games without a point.
But Franzen looked healthy and active in the Red Wings’ 2-1 win over the Avalanche, as he attacked Colorado goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere with a team-high six shots.
Giguere preserved a scoreless game late in the first when Franzen bore in on him.
“I got a good pass from Hank (Zetterberg) and I just missed it, kind of half an open net,” Franzen said. “Too bad I missed it. But I’m usually lucky against Colorado. Try to stay with that.”
Franzen did stay with it and at 7:00 of the second, he got another nice pass from Damien Brunner, this time for a breakaway and this time he did not miss.
“That was a good pass by him,” Franzen said. “I think there was a (defenseman) in between and he got it over his stick and I got the breakaway.”
Asked what he was thinking about on the breakaway, Franzen said, “I only have one move and that’s it. That’s the only thing I got.”
Franzen has 13 goals and five assists in 25 games against Colorado — one of his favorite opponents.
With the goal Tuesday, Franzen has four goals and six assists in 16 games this season, good enough for fifth on the team despite the missed time.
Niklas Kronwall scored the eventual game-winner later but he was more impressed with goaltender Jimmy Howard, who had 36 saves, and the play of his fellow Swede.
“He was great all over the ice,” Kronwall said of Franzen. “I really thought he competed tonight and made it hard on their D-men. He was everywhere I thought on the forecheck, the backcheck. He played great for us.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock was equally impressed.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Babcock said. “Last game he got better as the game went on. (Tuesday) he was ready to go from the start. We need him to be. He can be a force for us. I thought he was really heavy on the forecheck, he got pucks back. I thought he was excellent.”
The Wings are still missing Darren Helm (back), Valtteri Filppula (shoulder), Mikael Samuelsson (broken finger) and Todd Bertuzzi (back).
Bertuzzi and Samuelsson are two of their bigger forwards, so that makes Franzen’s contributions even more important while they’re out.
Franzen also tends to be a streaky scorer, so if he gets hot, he has the ability to carry a team for a while.
In a lockout-shortened season with so little separating teams, that could mean the difference between making the playoffs or not.
The Wings went from fourth place in the Western Conference Sunday to 10th entering Tuesday’s game.
The two points they got Tuesday pushed them back into fourth place.
“(Colorado) has played two less games and we’re only up six points on them,” Zetterberg said. “But these are important. A win takes us up in a playoff spot and a loss takes us out of a playoff spot. That’s how it’s going to be. You have to play every game, every night and if you do that and win games you’ll get rewarded in the end.”
If the Wings are able to keep Franzen going, there’s far greater chance of them getting rewarded.