Ironically enough, it was a former Chicago Blackhawks castoff who haunted his old team by scoring two goals and leading his Detroit Red Wings to a 5-2 win in Game One of the Western Conference finals.
Dan Cleary was drafted 13th overall back in 1997 played only 41 games for the Blackhawks before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers.
“I wasn’t in Chicago very long, so no hard feelings,” Cleary, who only scored nine points that first season, said.
This Harbour Grace, N.L. native found himself unemployed after the NHL lockout before signing a tryout contract with the Red Wings in 2005.
“He was a dynamic player as a 16-year-old,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It just happened too quick for him and he wasn’t able to handle it emotionally. We happened to get him at the right time. He came in with the right attitude and started working.”
Cleary, who also played an important part in helping the Wings win the Stanley Cup last year, has registered a career-high five goals this postseason, including the series winner last round against the Anaheim Ducks.
“He’s a dangerous guy,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Also scoring for the Red Wings were Mikael Samuelsson, Johan Franzen, and Henrik Zetterberg into an empty net.
“We got a lesson,” Quenneville said. “We’ve got to be better.”
Chicago, who finished fourth in the West with 104 points, will need to get production from their two young guns Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews if they want to dethrone the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Both players were not only shutout in the first game, but were on the ice when the Wings scored three goals.
“They kind of collapsed on me,” Kane said. “So, I was trying to find the open guys a little more. I definitely have to try to find a way to get some shots.”
It’s been quite the breakthrough season for the Hawks, who have made it to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1995. With their youth and inexperience, it will be almost impossible for them to beat this experienced veteran Red Wings squad.