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Detroit's Cleary is at his pest best against Chicago

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The Red Wings' Daniel Cleary (right) and the Blackhawks' Michal Rozsival battle as they wait for the puck during the first period Wednesday, May 15, 2013, in Chicago.

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By Detroit Free Press
Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 8:06 p.m.

DETROIT — Daniel Cleary drives people crazy. He gets under their skin and he rattles them and he won't just go away.

And this is just how his own teammates feel about him.

To their delight, and the satisfaction of the Detroit Red Wings' front office, Cleary is showing himself in full pest mode against the Chicago Blackhawks, whom the Wings take on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena holding a 2-1 series lead. Cleary is making new friends against the Blackhawks, regularly caught up in scuffles with Bryan Bickell, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, adding to a playoff performance that also shows six points in 10 games dating back through the Anaheim series.

“He's not quite as heavy as he used to be, but in this playoff he's gotten back to Danny Cleary of old, really skating,” coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday. “He's doing a real good job right now. He's playing in our top two lines, plays on the power play. He's been real effective, and he's a real good person.”

The last time Cleary was this effective in the playoffs, the Wings went all the way to the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. He's 34 now and has been through numerous knee surgeries and some back pain, but he's aggravating and he's productive and he's having a blast.

“Certainly, a hatred is brewing between our two clubs,” Cleary said, smiling. “It's only going to get more intense as we get going. I'm sure there are some guys who aren't happy out there. You're fighting for every inch. Sometimes it boils over.”

It boils over in his own dressing room, too. Jimmy Howard described Cleary as, “loud, opinionated and confident.” Also: Effective. “He's hardworking, goes out there and skates, he's huge for us.”

There's a running joke among teammates that Cleary is the smartest guy in the room.

“I think he thinks he's the smartest one, anyway,” Niklas Kronwall said, laughing. “I wouldn't put him up there at the top.”

Cleary is a talker, and it's hard for him to hide that he's well-read and watches a lot of TV and knows just a little about everything. He's also a talker, before games, and during, and again this is where his effectiveness shows.

“He's got elite hockey sense and he's a great competitor,” Babcock said. “He's in our leadership group here. He's demanding of our guys, on the ice, on the bench, in the room, and doesn't mind telling people. I think he's a huge part of our hockey club that way.”

Brendan Smith remembers the first time he encountered Cleary, when it was all silent treatment.

“He didn't say anything,” Smith said. “You've got to earn your stripes with him.”

Once you do, there's nothing Cleary wouldn't do to help.

“He's a good leader in this dressing room,” Damien Brunner said. “He shows the younger guys where to go. I learn a lot from him.”

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