Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer DETROIT -- This is why the Detroit Red Wings are the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
This is why their opponents are constantly left scratching their heads at this time of year, constantly wondering how a team in this day and age manages to find ways to win, year in and year out.
Sure, the Wings pose nightly threats with weapons such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Marian Hossa. But when it comes to Detroit's success, one word can sum up why the franchise is an annual contender.
The Red Wings are headed back to the Western Conference Finals because four players not named Datsyuk, Zetterberg or Hossa found the back of the net in a 4-3 win against the Anaheim Ducks at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night in Game 7 of this fantastic Western Conference Semifinal.
Dan Cleary was a member of the foursome, as he scored the game-winner with just three minutes remaining in regulation by getting a stick on a loose puck that trickled between the pads of Jonas Hiller to transition the nervous crowd into celebration mode.
The goal sets up a rematch of the 2009 Bridgestone Winter Classic, as the Wings will meet the Chicago Blackhawks to determine which team will represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. The series is slated to begin at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon.
For Cleary, a native of Newfoundland, goals don't come any bigger.
"Z made the play really … he put it on net, and I just happened deflect it," Cleary said. "I stayed with it. It's the biggest goal I've ever scored, considering the situation and the time."
Jiri Hudler notched a timely goal as well, as he broke a scoreless tie with a power-play tally at 15:43 of the opening period. After Ryan Getzlaf was whistled for his second minor penalty of the game, Hudler parked himself in front of the net and redirected a wrist shot by Johan Franzen past Hiller for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
"We've got four lines that can score," Hudler said. "That's what it's all about in playoffs. You want everyone to feel good about themselves and be confident. You want to try to make something happen.
"It was fun. What a great night. Every shift was a battle. It's a big relief. It was a long series."
Darren Helm put the Wings up by a pair just 1:17 into the second period. The 22-year-old took a pass from Hossa in the neutral zone and blew past all Anaheim defenders -- including Scott Niedermayer -- en route to a breakaway tally. Helm -- who has yet to score an NHL goal in the regular season -- has two in these playoffs and four in his postseason career.
"I think I got a pretty good jump on the puck there," Helm said. "I just wanted to get away from both 'D' as quick as I could. I didn't put any added pressure on myself. I knew I was going to respond, and the team was going to as well."
Teemu Selanne cut the deficit in half for the Ducks with 5:10 to play in the second period, but veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson quickly restored Detroit's two-goal lead with a wrister from the slot just 33 seconds later.
Again, the depth was the difference.
"What people don't understand is the people that have won know what it takes to win it and they don't give in," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They just keep coming and that's why they were so hard to get rid of. Until you measure your players at this time of year, you don't know if you're close at all."
Anaheim got awfully close to knocking off the defending champs. Perry scored late in the second period and managed to tie the game when Bobby Ryan took a pass from Perry and poked it past Chris Osgood at 7:37 of the third.
But just when it seemed the teams would need overtime to determine the deciding game, Cleary scored the biggest goal of his life -- and allowed the Red Wings to advance despite getting a combined five goals from Zetterberg and Hossa in the series, and none from Datsyuk.
"It's great to have that depth and have that scoring balance, where you don't have to rely on two lines to get all the goals for you," Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "When you have scoring through your lineup, it's harder to play against. It really helps the whole team when you have role players chipping in like that."
On Thursday night, in their first Game 7 in seven years, everyone on the Red Wings chipped in. It was the kind of production that separates them from the 29 other teams in the League.
"I think the depth is the key," Cleary said. "Hudler gets a timely power-play goal. Helmer with that breakaway speed and a great shot. Sammie, and then myself found a way. It takes a little pressure off the guys who are always counted on."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.
With the Ducks on their second two-man advantage of the game, Henrik Zetterberg blocked two rockets from Ryan Getzlaf and then proceeded to clear the zone. It was the type of sequence that shows why the 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is such a special player.
He didn't receive much ice time, but Red Wings forward Kris Draper was tremendous on faceoffs in his 2009 postseason debut, winning 7 of 9 draws.
Chris Osgood made the save of the game just 4:42 after the opening faceoff. With the Ducks buzzing in the Wings' end, Corey Perry sent a pass from the side of the net in front to James Wisniewski, who appeared to have the majority of the net to shoot at. But Osgood slid across the crease and made a phenomenal pad save to keep the game scoreless.
The Red Wings outshot the Ducks 17-6 in the opening 20 minutes of Game 7 and 82-64 in the first periods during this series.
If it wasn't bad enough that the Ducks failed to capitalize on a 70-second two-man advantage early in the first period, Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf took two separate minor penalties later in the period, thus allowing Detroit's power play to go to work. The Red Wings cashed in on the second one, when Jiri Hudler redirected Johan Franzen's shot past Jonas Hiller at 15:43.
1 - 0 DET
Snap shot -
2 - 0 DET
2 - 1 DET
Snap shot -
3 - 1 DET
3 - 2 DET
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 DET
Holding the stick
Delaying Game-Puck over glass
Interference on goalkeeper