DETROIT — Injuries plagued the Red Wings during a February slump that saw them win just once in three weeks. And while players including All-Star defensemen Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom have since returned to the lineup, you need to look down the roster to find the player that has led Detroit to three straight wins in less than a week.
Franzen notched two goals against the Nashville Predators on Sunday afternoon in a 4-3 win, including the game-winning goal at 16:27 of the second period. Sunday saw the continuation of Franzen’s three-game goal scoring streak — the longest of his career — after notching the game winners in Detroit’s previous two games against Buffalo and St. Louis. The wins ended a 3-5-1 slump for the NHL’s top team.
With Tomas Holmstrom out of the lineup with a groin injury, Franzen took his place atop the Nashville crease on the power play. Franzen deflected a hard Henrik Zetterberg pass from the sideboards past Predators netminder Chris Mason to give Detroit the early lead on the power play.
Franzen’s second goal: same spot, different period. This time blinding Mason with his 6-foot-3 frame, Franzen redirected Lidstrom’s point shot through the five hole, giving Detroit a 4-0 lead with just over three minutes left in the second.
“He’s got great hand-eye coordination,” Lidstrom said. “We’ve worked a lot in practice on just taking shots from the point and him trying to tip it in. It worked out for us today.”
Lidstrom’s return reunited the top defensive pairing of Lidstrom and Rafalski for the first time since Feb. 12 — the last time the Wings faced the Predators. Lidstrom had missed six games since injuring his knee in a collision with Colorado’s Ian Laperriere on Feb. 18. Lidstrom tallied two assists in his comeback, and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said he will play on Tuesday against the Blackhawks.
“It felt great to be back in the game again,” Lidstrom said. “I felt a little rustier in the first period, got caught standing still a couple times not reading the play and reacting as quick as you want. Once I got over that hump, I felt comfortable out there.”
Jiri Hudler gave Detroit a 2-0 lead at 15:43 of the first period on the power play. Brad Stuart added his first goal as a Wing since being acquired at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Kings.
The Red Wings held the Predators scoreless through 40 minutes, but Nashville destroyed the seemingly perfect game late in the third, scoring three goals in the final eight and half minutes. Nashville defenseman Shea Weber broke Hasek’s shutout with a point shot on the power play, and Martin Erat and Jordin Tootoo added late goals.
“A win is a win,” Babcock said. “We’ve won three in a row here and it just continues to build confidence. Anytime you have a tough stretch like we did, and then you get your players back, you want to continue to win and just feel good about who you are.”
Goaltender Dominik Hasek started his fourth consecutive game for the first time this season. He faced just 23 shots, and the most action he saw until the third period was a collision with Nashville defenseman Dan Hamhuis late in the middle frame. Hasek went to play the puck behind the net and was blindsided by Hamhuis’ shoulder. Hamhuis was whistled for an interference penalty, and the Detroit trainer briefly aided Hasek, who remained in the game.
Detroit and Nashville will play each other three more times this month in a Central Division-game laden schedule. There is a possibility that the games will preview a first-round playoff matchup, since Nashville is tied with eighth-place Vancouver with 78 points. Detroit leads the season series with Nashville 3-2.
GAME NOTES: Detroit’s three power play goals tie the most it has scored at home all season (12/15/07 in 5-2 win against Florida). … Johan Franzen has scored in three straight games for the first time in his career. It’s also the first time Franzen has scored two goals in one game. … Coincidentally, the last time Brad Stuart scored a goal was Feb. 7 against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. … Nashville allowed three power play goals, tying the most allowed by the Predators this season (10/27/07 in 4-3 win vs. Florida). … Brett Lebda (flu), Chris Chelios (chipped fibula), Tomas Holmstrom (groin), Dan Cleary (fractured jaw) and Darren McCarty (ribs) missed the game.