Red Wings-Blackhawks: Detroit "Cleary" Outmatches Chicago in Game One

Keith SheltonAnalyst IMay 18, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 17:  Dan Cleary #11 of the Detroit Red Wings deflects the puck with his stick against goalie Nikolai Khabibulin #39 of the Chicago Blackhawks during Game One of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 17, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Dan Cleary was riding the emotional high that comes with scoring a series clinching goal, all weekend long. Turns out scoring those types of goals can have a carryover effect as well.

The hero of Newfoundland, 72 hours removed from one of his greatest moments as a Red Wing, scored twice on Sunday to lead Detroit by the Chicago Blackhawks in Game One of the Western Conference Finals.

On a team like the Detroit Red Wings, players like Dan Cleary often get lost in the media frenzy that surrounds players like Pavel Datsyuk, Nick Lidstrom, Chris Osgood, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, and now Johan Franzen.

That's what makes the Red Wings great though. It seems that after every game, there is a seldom covered second or third liner that inexplicably becomes the star of the game and steals the show away from the typical media darlings.

On Sunday, it was Dan Cleary's turn.

Dan Cleary is currently third on the team in points with 11, and leads Detroit with a plus-13 rating. The plus-minus rating more than anything speaks to his tenacity as a player.

Against Anaheim, Cleary was often tasked with shutting down the Ducks top line of Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan, and he has the bruises to prove it, and a plus-four rating against the Ducks to show for it. 

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Cleary did his job against Anaheim and was rewarded when he scored the game winning goal in Game Seven of that series.

Now Cleary will be tasked with shutting down two of the brightest young stars in the game. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

After Game One, Patrick Kane had zero shots on net. Jonathan Toews had three shots and no points. Dan Cleary had two goals and a plus-three rating.

He almost had three. With time in the third period expiring, Cleary stole the puck and raced in all alone against Blackhawks goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin. He rocketed off his shot, but was denied.

No matter. In a season devoid of Red Wings hat tricks, it was almost fitting for Cleary to score his two goals and be happy with that, like everyone else on the Red Wings.

It really is a credit to the Red Wings organization that Cleary is even with the team today. He was regarded around the NHL as a burnout, lazy, unrealized potential.

Drafted 13th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1997, Cleary didn't impress as an 18 year old and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. There he began to show some offensive flair, but apparently not enough for Edmonton.

After a forgettable 2003-'04 season in Phoenix and the NHL lockout approaching, Cleary's once promising career appeared to be over.

Then the Red Wings called in the 2005 preseason. Cleary came to camp as a tryout and with a renewed sense of urgency, won a spot on the team. The rest is history.

This is nothing new for the Red Wings. They are a team full of "passed-over" players. No one wanted (or even knew about) Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg when they were drafted. Wings fans said "who?" when they signed Andreas Lilja and Mikhael Samuelsson.

All are regular contributors to Detroit now, and so is Dan Cleary. He now enters the growing list of Conn Smyth candidates for Detroit, should they win the Stanley Cup, along with Chris Osgood, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen.

For a player who's career was on life support before finding new life in Detroit, it couldn't get any sweeter.


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