NHL Playoffs: Red Wings 5, Blackhawks 2
DETROIT ó 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 on Sunday.
“I came here as a tryout,” he said. “They gave me a chance to be a player.”
Cleary was drafted 13th overall by the Blackhawks in 1997, but had just nine 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 to surpass his previous high of 35.
“He was a dynamic player as a 16-year-old,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “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 3 minutes left in Game 7 and has netted a career-high five goals this postseason.
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, and 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.