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Hot List: Cleary coming up big for Red Wings

by John Kreiser / Detroit Red Wings
In the summer of 2005, Dan Cleary's NHL career had reached a crossroads. The former first-round pick (No. 13 by Chicago in 1997) was almost out of the League; the best deal he could get was a make-good deal with Detroit.

Suffice it to say, he's more than made good with the Wings.

At age 30, Cleary has become a significant contributor on a team that's seven wins away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions. His offensive numbers aren't enormous (5-6-11 in 12 games), but he's come up with big goals at big times. Cleary's goal with three minutes remaining on Thursday gave the Red Wings a 4-3 win in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Anaheim on Thursday, and he scored the first and fourth goals on Sunday in Detroit's 5-2 victory against Chicago in the opener of the Western Conference finals.

Last spring, Cleary became the first player from Newfoundland to get his name on the Stanley Cup. The way he's playing, he's on track to do it again this spring.

Five up -- Five players who've been playing well in the postseason:

Sidney Crosby -- Pittsburgh's captain more than met the challenge of facing Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. He scored eight goals in the seven-game series, including the first and last ones in the Penguins' Game 7 win.

Alex Ovechkin -- His team didn't been Crosby's, but Ovechkin can't be blamed. Despite playing with groin and wrist injuries, he had 8 goals and 14 points (one more than Crosby) in the second round after a 56-goal regular season. No player in recent memory offers the combination of scoring and physical play that Ovechkin brings every night.

Johan Franzen -- "The Mule" is pulling the playoff wagon for the Red Wings. He had a goal and two assists on Sunday, giving him 9 goals and 18 points in 12 playoff games. He has a five-game points streak and has failed to put up a point just once in this year's postseason.

Kris Letang -- The 22-year-old defenseman has given the Pittsburgh Penguins a big offensive boost from the blue line. He has goals in three of the Pens' last five games (including one in OT) and is 3-6-9 in 12 games this spring.

Chris Osgood -- So much for all of his regular-season struggles. Ozzie has been superb in the postseason, giving the Wings the goaltending they needed to outlast Anaheim and making 30 saves in Sunday's 5-2 victory against Chicago in Game 1 of the Western Finals.

Five down -- Five players who've struggled:

Pavel Datsyuk -- Though the other aspects of his game have been fine, the Hart Trophy finalist hasn't done much offensively in the playoffs. Datsyuk went without a goal in Detroit's seven-game win against Anaheim and didn't produce anything in Sunday's 5-2 win vs. Chicago.

Tomas Holmstrom
-- "Homer" is another Red Wing whose offense has been MIA. He didn't have a point in seven games against Anaheim and didn't hit the score sheet Sunday against Chicago. Overall he's pointless and minus-3 in Detroit's last eight games.

Erik Cole -- Cole's return gave Carolina a big boost down the stretch, but he's done almost nothing in the playoffs. He had just 2 assists in 14 games during the first two rounds; the Hurricanes won't get past Pittsburgh unless he becomes more of an offensive force.

Ray Whitney -- Whitney had an excellent first-round series for Carolina, but was almost invisible in Round 2, producing only two assists in seven games. Like Cole, he has to start finding the net for the 'Canes to get past Pittsburgh.

Simeon Varlamov -- The 21-year-old Russian rookie's first NHL postseason didn't end well. He lost four of his last five starts as Pittsburgh made up a 2-0 series deficit to beat Washington and was driven to the bench after allowing four goals in 22:12 in Game 7.

Injuries, news and notes 

Out -- Detroit is without forward Tomas Kopecky for its series against Chicago due to facial injuries sustained against Anaheim.

Returning -- Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar was able to play in Game 7 against Washington after missing Games 5 and 6 following a knee-on-knee collision with Washington's Alex Ovechkin early in Game 4. He didn't skate for three days, but was back on the ice Sunday and said he felt good. Pens coach Dan Bylsma said Gonchar will be a game-time decision on Monday. ... Detroit center Kris Draper and defenseman Brian Rafalski both returned for the last two games against Anaheim and played in the series opener against Chicago. ... Carolina forward Ryan Bayda played in Games 6 and 7 against Boston after missing two games with the flu.

Still out -- Detroit defenseman Andrea Lilja is still out with a concussion that cost him the last six weeks of the regular season.

Non-playoff teams -- Anaheim forward Petteri Nokelainen likely will need surgery to repair his broken hand. He was injured in Game 7 against Detroit. Forward Erik Christensen said he will undergo surgery soon to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder -- an injury originally suffered while he was with Pittsburgh last season. He should be back for training camp. ... Philadelphia captain Mike Richards had successful surgery on his left shoulder last week. He'd had surgery on his right shoulder two weeks earlier. Flyers defenseman Randy Jones underwent hip surgery last week and will need 4-6 weeks to recover. ... Vancouver forward Alex Burrows will undergo surgery to remove a bone chip in his left wrist. Canucks center Pavol Demitra will need about four months to recover from surgery for a torn labrum in his shoulder.

The week ahead
-- We're down to four teams, so there's no more than one game a night, with plenty of time between games.

Canucks/Blackhawks Playoff Gear Blackhawks GearRed Wings gear Games to watch:

Carolina at Pittsburgh (May 18) -- Two of the last three Eastern Conference finalists begin meet in the opener of this year's East finals.

Chicago at Detroit (May 19) -- The Wings won the opener of this series on Sunday and are now 6-1 at Joe Louis Arena in this year's playoffs.

Detroit at Chicago (May 22) -- The first Western Conference finals game in Chicago since 1995 figures to have the sold-out United Center rocking.

Pittsburgh at Carolina (May 23) -- The Hurricanes return home for the first time since their scintillating Game 7 overtime win against Boston last Thursday.

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