Cleary lifts Red Wings to opening victory
DETROIT - Dan Cleary was close to being an ex-NHL player when the league emerged from the lockout four years ago.
The Detroit Red Wings gave him another shot. The gritty forward took advantage, and the defending Stanley Cup champions are glad he did.
Cleary matched a playoff career high with two goals against the team that drafted him, leading the Red Wings to a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals yesterday.
"I came here as a tryout," he said. "They gave me a chance to be a player."
Game 2 is tomorrow night in Detroit.
Cleary was drafted 13th overall by the Blackhawks in 1997, but had just 9 points in 41 games before being traded to Edmonton.
"I wasn't in Chicago very long, so no hard feelings," he joked.
Cleary signed with the Red Wings in 2005, and after a 15-point season, he recorded 40 points each of the past three seasons.
"He was a dynamic player as a 16-year-old," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "It just happened too quick for him and he wasn't able to handle it emotionally. He bounced around.
"We happened to get him at the right time. He came in with the right attitude and started working."
In the previous round against Anaheim, Cleary scored the series-winning goal with three minutes left in Game 7 and has netted a career-high five goals this postseason. Cleary scored twice in a playoff game last year against the Ducks.
"He's a dangerous guy," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Cleary's second goal came midway through the third period, 1:27 after Mikael Samuelsson's go-ahead score for the Red Wings.
Detroit's Chris Osgood made 30 saves while Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 38 shots for the Blackhawks, who allowed an empty-net goal to Henrik Zetterberg.
Adam Burish gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead 5:25 in, but Cleary tied it a few minutes later. Johan Franzen put Detroit in front, 2-1, late in the second period.
If the Blackhawks are going to have a chance, they'll likely need young stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to produce. They were held without a point in the opener.