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Cleary's return gives boost to Wings

by Phil Coffey / Detroit Red Wings
For most of the season, the story around the Red Wings has been who is leaving the lineup with injuries. The Wings finally have some good news with Dan Cleary retuning from a separated shoulder that placed him on the club's long injury list for a dozen games.

And so far, so good. Cleary has goals in two straight games, netting one against the Kings on Jan. 7 and another against the Sharks on Jan. 9 with the opportunity for more Tuesday night on Long Island.

"It doesn't even look like he's lost anything," goalie Jimmy Howard told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "He was flying out there again. He really picked that top corner there. He's got a heck of a shot, and he definitely used it to his advantage."

Cleary admits the shoulder remains a tad tender, but he tested it a bit further in a scrum with the Sharks' Devin Setoguchi and came through unscathed.

"I was a little nervous, so I just wanted to make sure I didn't do any damage to it," Cleary told St. James. "I ran him into the net and then he got upset. It was a late hit. He wasn't happy. The shoulder felt real good. I'm not hesitant, that's the one thing I'm glad about -- I can go to the areas that I have to go to."

Cleary has been one of the most inspirational players around the League. For years, he was considered a failed first-round pick of the Blackhawks in 1997, but has rejuvenated his career in Detroit these past five seasons. In 32 games this season, Cleary has 9 goals and 9 assists.

He wants to return to the form that saw him score back-to-back 20-goal seasons, but missing those dozen games may compromise that desire.

"I wanted to do better than I did last year, at least in the regular season," he said. "Hopefully the offense stays and I can play a good complete game."

On the comeback trail: Since a 4-2 home win against the Avalanche on New Year's Eve, the Red Wings have won three of their next four games, all on the road. Detroit has posted a 4-1 win vs. Phoenix, a 2-1 win against the Kings and a 4-1 win against the Sharks, with the lone defeat a 4-1 setback to the Ducks.

The Red Wings play on Long Island on Tuesday night and then return home Thursday to meet the Hurricanes.

"It was a huge road trip for us," coach Mike Babcock told Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. "But we've got to keep grinding out wins and, hopefully, we'll get ourselves one of those playoff spots."

Heading into play Monday night, the Red Wings were a point back of the Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"We know the points are so crucial for us right now," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Every point is important; that's why we are so pleased with the way we finished the trip. We are starting to get guys back and healthy now, so we just have to keep finding ways to get points."

Around the Central: Henrik Zetterberg also is back for the Wings against the Sharks. … Johan Franzen, recovering from major knee surgery back on Oct. told the Detroit Free Press there is a chance he could be back before the puck drops on the 2010 Winter Olympic tournament. "The way things are right now, I might," he said. "I can turn and stop, but not at full speed yet. I'm still only at 60 percent or so for speed. We'll see." …

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