DETROIT — So it wasn't exactly the way Dan Cleary envisioned it as a kid on skates, dreaming big dreams, picturing scoring the winning goal in a pivotal Game 7.
Well, he was three minutes ahead of the dream scenario. Cleary, though, he wasn't about to quibble with a premature ending in the second round of the playoffs.
His series-clinching goal with three minutes left in regulation gave the Red Wings a 4-3 victory against the Ducks on Thursday night in front of an intense, noisy crowd at Joe Louis Arena in Game 7.
He had been talking about how he had never played in a Game 7 and wondered what it was going to be like under the microscope.
His first one, clearly, was one to remember. Even though he had to think about it when asked how he managed to push the puck under Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller.
"I think I had two shots at it," said Cleary, who scored his third goal of the playoffs. "It was sitting there. I made sure I stayed with it and didn't give up on it. What can you say? I was pretty happy it went in."
Cleary gave credit to Henrik Zetterberg who put the puck on net in the first place. "It was the biggest goal I scored, considering the situation and the time," he said.
The enormity of a Game 7 didn't overwhelm him.
Unlike the highly touted Game 7 of the Pittsburgh-Washington series, which the Penguins won in a blowout on Wednesday, this Game 7 lived up to the hype. The tension only increased as the Ducks erased a 3-1 deficit and tied it, 3-3, early in the third period.
"Honesty, I treated it like an elimination game," Cleary said. "I treated it as if the backs were against the wall."
Indeed, their backs were pushed right up against it, once Bobby Ryan scored at 7:37 of the third to tie it. The season was coming down to the last few minutes on the rink.
"We're excited about winning a series and coming back," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Winning a game late the way we did, getting a late goal."
He modified that, a bit. The Ducks never led in Game 7, though it probably felt as if the series might have been slipping away once the lead vanished.
The reigning Cup champions are halfway to repeating and next play Chicago -- Game 1 is Sunday in Detroit -- and the intimidating news is that the Red Wings are doing this without scoring from MVP candidate Pavel Datsyuk.
Datsyuk assisted on Mikael Samuelsson's goal but did not score in the seven-game series against the Ducks. The other Red Wings goals in Game 7 came from Jiri Hudler on the power play and Darren Helm on a breakaway early in the second period.
Marian Hossa joked about Helm's speed, saying: "The puck got loose. And Speedy Gonzalez was on his horse."
Said Lidstrom: "It's great to see we're not relying on the first two lines, not counting on Pave [Datsyuk] or Hank [Zetterberg] to carry the team or to get the goals. It's great a player like Cleary can get the winner. Hudler, Samuelsson, it makes it so much harder to play against us."
Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood talked about the epic struggle in the series and the man behind the effort in shutting down Datsyuk: The Ducks' Todd Marchant
"For Pave, battling Marchant for seven games is tough. It was Ken Linesman-like, from the '80s, a shadow guy," Osgood said. "We had to fight for every inch. A series like that, unfortunately someone moves on and someone doesn't. We're fortunate it was us."