Shot in the arm
"I don't know who was more surprised, me or Backstrom," said Cleary, scratching his head in the Detroit Red Wings locker room after a 3-2 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild, Tuesday.
The person who wasn't surprised was Detroit coach Mike Babcock. Earlier in the day, Babcock was preaching to reporters how his team had to shoot the puck more often. He walked through the locker room, saw Mikael Samuelsson being interviewed and joked, "Sammy's going to shoot more. We've got the whole thing figured out."
It was shooting -- shooting for shooting's sake -- that turned around the game last night.
Cleary found himself with the puck deep in Minnesota territory, one step away from the goal line, his back nearly touching the side boards. At the same time, the Red Wings' backs were against the proverbial wall. There was just 1:20 left on the third-period clock and Detroit, which had been outplayed in the first two periods, was trailing, 2-1.
Cleary turned and sent a wrist shot from as bad an angle as you can be on the ice without being behind the net. The puck went through players. It caught a part of Backstrom as he butterflied and snuck through the goalie's pads.
Backstrom stopped and stared. Cleary stopped and stared. The score was tied at 2-2.
"The coaching staff always stresses to us to shoot the puck from every angle," said Cleary. "I'm trying to shoot more this year. It was just a lucky bounce that it went in."
Backstrom had stopped 35 of the first 36 shots he faced in the game. The final two he saw, however, got past him.
After Cleary's goal came Brett Lebda's winning goal 1:37 into overtime -- Lebda's first goal since Nov. 18, ending a 33-game drought.
"It's been too long," said a smiling Lebda. "You don't like to go that long without a goal. It's good to get one and the most important thing is we got two points."
Cleary started the sequence by pressuring Minnesota defenseman Nick Schultz, forcing a turnover. Cleary then got the puck to Henrik Zetterberg, who carried it below the goal line, spun and found Lebda cutting down for a back-door dunk.
It was the 10th time this season that the Red Wings were tied after regulation. But it was the first time that the game was decided in the four-on-four overtime.
"We're fortunate to win the game like that," said goalie Dominik Hasek, who made 24 saves to get his fifth consecutive win. "They were a better team for 40 minutes, but in the third period we started to compete on a higher level. … We were shooting puck. If you shoot the puck, sometimes you score a lucky goal. That's what happened with about one minute left."
The victory was Detroit's eighth in a row. The Red Wings will try to tie the franchise record of nine straight -- done seven times, the most recent of which was earlier this season -- Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.
"They wanted to measure up," said Babcock of the Northwest Division leading Wild. "I read the papers. They played like that intensity wise in the first two periods. We played like a team that was just playing another game."
Although outshot 13-8 in the first period, Detroit scored the game's first goal when Johan Franzen put back the rebound of a Tomas Kopecky shot. Then, however, Brian Rolston walked out from the corner on the power play and stuffed the puck in and Pavol Demitra blasted a 2-on-1 shot high to give the Wild a 2-1 lead 26 minutes into the game.
Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire called it the best first period his team has played this season. He thought through two periods that his team was on its way to its best game of the year.
"We've got to shoot the puck," said Babcock. "We didn't shoot it at all at the beginning. We'd go around the back of the net, go around the back of the net and hang onto it. You've got to shoot the puck for it to go in. On our first goal, Kopey (Kopecky) passed the puck off his pads and it went in. That's the way you've got to play hockey."