So as a daily feature for the next little while I'm going to post up awards for the Wings' performance during the playoffs. Basic groundrules: they can only be Red Wings, and they must be human beings, so no Lids or Dom. (It would get a little boring if they qualified.) I'm starting with MVPs of each of the series, and then we'll go on to themed awards. I meant to start yesterday, so I'll do two today to catch up.
Anyway, without further ado, my pick for Red Wings Most Valuable Player in Round One Not Named Nicklas is:
Cleary was, as they say in France, a total fucking badass in round one. His hit on Phaneuf was, in my mind, the best hockey play of the 2006-2007 season. I'm not just talking about a bone-crushing hit. I'm talking about a bone-crushing hit on the team's hulking, fearless, and best defender, then losing his helmet, getting up grabbing the puck, throwing it on net, and having the rebound slammed in for a goal. I could not imagine a better and more effective individual effort, at least not until Pavel Datsyuk actually manages to deke through four players and score on that play (he tries often enough - it's going to happen sooner or later).
But while the Phaneuf hit itself (and the goal that ensued) was amazing, the Wings lost that game. But it had to lift the spirits of this team. As far as a real, statistical impact on the Wings' victory? How about Game 5's shorthanded penalty shot goal? The game was tied 0-0 through one and looked like the Flames might steal one in Detroit. The Wings had just lost two straight and the playoff failure monkey had yet to be removed. But Cleary, a tenacious PKer, busted down the wing, drove to the net, and earned his penalty shot. Of course he scored on it, and led the Wings to a 5-1 win in Detroit that stage the stage for elimination in G6. Had Calgary won that game? Unlikely that the Wings make it to Round 2.
Throughout the playoffs, but especially in R1, I felt like Cleary excelled in all three critical areas: offense, defense, and brain-rattling physicality. And all of that for peanuts (around 650K/year.)
Top: Cleary scores on the penalty shot in G5. (Photo: Daniel Mears, The Detroit News)
Bottom: Cleary, in the infant stages of possibly the mightiest beard ever. (Photo: John T. Greilick, The Detroit News)