Cleary not only suited up for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night, he opened the scoring by beating Marc-Andre with a 35-foot wrist shot just 13:32 into the contest, sparking the Red Wings to a 5-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and giving Detroit a 3-2 lead in best-of-7 series.
Cleary played down the fact he missed the morning skate.
"It's Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. You don't find any more important than that. There's no way I was going to miss this one," he said. "I was pumped before the goal and like the rest of the team we just seemed to feed off that goal and kept rolling and rolling."
It was a goal the Wings needed badly after losing back-to-back 4-2 games in Pittsburgh and getting off to a less-than-dominant start in Game 5.
"It was definitely a statement goal," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "But then 'Clears' has done a lot of that in the playoffs."
For the record, the goal was Cleary's ninth of the playoffs. Only Johan Franzen, with 12, and Henrik Zetterberg, with 11, have more for the Red Wings. It was third-game-winner of the playoffs for the 30-year-old winger from Carbonnear, Newfoundland. In his five previous playoff seasons, he had only seven goals.
Still, Cleary admits he was in a bit of a funk after not scoring in his previous four games, following a stretch in which he scored seven goals in six games beginning with the series-winning goal in Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Semifinals.
In Game 5 against the Pens, he had one goal, two shots, two hits and one blocked shot. He was more than ready to rock.
"We heard the comments they made about us being tired and this and that," Cleary said, when asked about several Penguins players who suggested they had the tired Wings on the run after beating them in Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh. "We used that as motivation. We played desperate and we played hard from start to finish.
"For me, I treated this like any other game in the playoffs. By that, I mean I treated it like an elimination game with our backs to the wall."
"Everything he's gotten since he came to Detroit, he's earned," coach Mike Babcock said. "What a great story of a guy looking for work and succeeding. He had no contract when he came here, but he never stopped working and hustling and was willing to do whatever we asked. A real team guy."
Cleary didn't have to be a heavy traffic area to earn his goal in Game 5. He did it with his skills and a dynamite wrist shot, set up by Pavel Datsyuk, who energized the Wings with his return from a foot injury.
"Pav always plays with skill and speed and a lot of shifty moves," Cleary said. "Tonight, you could see it in his eyes. He was really focused and ready for a great night. I'm just glad I could be the one to help get him going again."