DETROIT--Johan Franzen looked loaded to score from his first shift. Jimmy Howard looked loath to let any Avalanche do so.
In a performance that wasn't their best of the season but good enough to win, the Wings relied on their mule and their man in net to edge the Avalanche, 2-1, Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena, earning points for the fifth time in six games.
"We're playing hard, and our goalie is giving us a chance to win every night," Franzen said. "We're starting to understand how we have to play to be successful."
Coach Mike Babcock cautioned the Wings, "not give ourselves to much credit here. The score and the amount of chances we gave up aren't the same. We've played better, and lost, than we played tonight. But it's a good win for our hockey club. There's never been an ugly win."
Franzen continued to build on his legend against the Avalanche, scoring his 12th goal in 12 games against Colorado. "I thought he was outstanding," Babcock said. "Last game, he got better as the game wore on; today he was ready to go from the start. He can be a force for us. I thought he was really heavy on the forecheck, he got pucks back. He was excellent."
Niklas Kronwall had the other goal.
Howard made 21 saves through 40 minutes and earned some highlight-reel love two minutes into the third period, when he keeled backwards and to the left to catch a shot by John Mitchell. Shortly after that, Howard stopped a P.A. Parenteau breakaway with a glove save.
Howard described the save on Mitchell as, "you do it in practice, never give up on pucks in practice, and sometimes in games you come up with it."
The Avalanche didn't solve Howard until there was just 1:30 left in regulation, when Paul Stastny backhanded his own rebound after Colorado had pulled its goaltender. It marked the fourth straight game the Wings haven't allowed a goal through the first two periods.
"It's unfortunate that they got one so late," Howard said after making 36 saves. "But it was huge for us to find a way to get two points."
The Wings came into the game confident they're a better team than a month ago, a more cohesive and better defensive one. The Avalanche are one of the faster teams in the league, and while the Wings weren't happy with their start, they were delighted with their goaltending. "Howie came up huge for us and gave us a chance," Kronwall said. "You cannot ask for anything more from your goalie."
After testing Jean-Sebastien Giguere twice in the first period and firing a Brendan Smith pass into Giguere's glove early in the second period, Franzen took a pass from Damien Brunner, went up the middle on a breakaway and succeeded with a forehand shot.
"I usually have luck against Colorado," Franzen said. "I tried to stay with it. I only have one move, and that's it."
A solid penalty kill followed, with Cory Emmerton seeing a good scoring chance sink into Giguere's body, and the Wings kept the momentum going as they transitioned to even strength.
Kronwall got the Wings a 2-0 lead with a few minutes left in the second period, ripping a shot from the blue line that banged off the end boards, skidded into the crease, hit Giguere's skate and slid into Colorado's net. The Avalanche came back to make it close, but Howard made sure it was the Wings who closed out the night with a victory.
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