When you unseat Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, from the record books twice in a span of less than three months, people tend to take notice.
As Detroit celebrates its 11th Stanley Cup, the hockey world is discovering the right winger from Vetlanda, Sweden, who scored a playoff-high tying with 13 goals despite having missed six goals with a bruise on his brain. He finished the Colorado Avalanche off with back-to-back hat tricks, ending the four-game second-round sweep with nine goals, surpassing Howe’s club mark of eight goals in a single series, a standard that had stood since 1949, when Howe lit up the Montreal Canadiens in the semifinals.
He had six multi-goal games down the stretch and in the playoffs after going without a multi-goal performance through his first 231 NHL contests.
The history of Stanley Cup play is dotted with the legends of unlikely playoff heroes who in shooting-star fashion shone brightly for a time before flaming out and fading back into oblivion.
There was Chris Kontos scoring nine goals for the Los Angeles Kings during the 1989 postseason, and John Druce pacing the surprising run of the Washington Capitals to the 1990 conference finals, scoring 14 goals.
Likewise, there are those who used the platform of the Stanley Cup playoffs to make their mark and utilize their performance as a stepping stone to greatness. Think of goaltender Ken Dryden’s Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance as he backstopped the Canadiens to the 1971 Stanley Cup, or Tomas Holmstrom’s breakthrough 19-point effort for the Wings as they won the Cup in 1998.
The Wings are certain that this was no spring fling and that Franzen belongs in the latter category — that history will prove that Franzen to be an A-list player who is establishing himself as a legitimate star.
He certainly does the things required to succeed as a scorer in the playoffs. At 6-foot-2, Franzen uses his size to his advantage, will battle for position in front of the net and is willing to go to the dirty areas.
Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom believes Franzen could be headed for greatness as an NHLer.
"I think he’s got all the attributes to be a complete player in the league," Lidstrom said. "When he first came here, he was more of a checker. Now he hangs on to the puck and makes plays and is just getting better at it. It’s great to see him take the puck to the net. He really tries to hang on to it.
"He’s scoring goals where he’s just being patient and going to the front of the net. He’s playing with a ton of confidence. He’s so tough to knock off the puck and has such great balance.
"The coach (Mike Babcock) has been giving him more trust, too. He’s willing to put him out there penalty killing, power play, in the last minute of game. We’ve really been counting on him."
Franzen’s legend first blossomed late in the regular season, when injuries to top-six forwards Daniel Cleary and Holmstrom opened up an opportunity for him. He capitalized on the chance, scoring six game winners in March, supplanting Howe and current teammate Henrik Zetterberg, who’d shared the previous club record, having scored five winning goals over the course of a month.
Franzen’s record sixth game winner came March 30 against the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena, as the Wings held an 80th birthday party for Howe, the club’s all-time scoring leader and most recognizable player.
"I'm sorry I spoiled his birthday," Franzen said.
Veteran winger Darren McCarty, who was signed by Detroit in March, around the time Franzen’s hot streak ignited, instantly recognized star qualities in Franzen.
"It’s no surprise to us," McCarty said. "It’s not like an all-of-a-sudden thing. He’s built it up, especially since I’ve been here from the end of March. He’s really been on a tear.
"He’s getting opportunity and confidence and we’ve seen that he’s a great player. He plays well in all aspects of the game. He’s shooting the puck more, driving to the net more, using his size to his advantage. I think that’s his confidence and his belief in his ability and we all have that belief in him."
Even though he wasscoring at an Alexander Ovechkin pace at the end of the season and in the playoffs, the Wings insist they see no difference in Franzen’s personality or on-ice habits.
"Mule is mule, and he’s doing the same things, playing the same way," Holmstrom said.
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Shy and soft-spoken, Franzen doesn't seek attention.
"He's kind of a quiet guy who says he doesn't want to be in the spotlight too much, but the way he's playing, he's going to be there if he keeps performing every night," Lidstrom said.
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