- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Not on Z's watch.
It just can't happen in Henrik Zetterberg's first tour of duty wearing the C.
"It's his first year as captain, he's such a great captain, we respect him so much as a player and love him so much as a guy, we just don't want to see it happen on his watch," Cleary told ESPN.com. "And all of us have a lot of pride -- 21 years and counting in the playoffs for this organization, no one wants to be on the team that ends it."
The Red Wings enter Wednesday night's big tilt with the visiting Los Angeles Kings one point out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference (held by the Columbus Blue Jackets), but with one game in hand.
The Wings hear the talk that after 20-plus years near the top of the hockey world, four Stanley Cups and easily the model organization in the game during that span, their time has come to find out how the regular folk live.
Talk of Detroit's demise also fuels the veterans in that dressing room who have Cup rings.
"It's a huge part, to be honest," said Cleary, a Cup champion in 2008 with the Wings. "We know. Every hockey player knows what's being said about their team."
Truth is, battling for their playoff lives in the home stretch of the regular season is simply an uncommon feeling for the veteran core of this team.
"It is, there's no other way to put it; we've never been in this position, quite frankly," Cleary said. "If anything, we're usually battling for first place or home ice in the playoffs. It's been different."
Also different is the team's offensive struggles. The Wings sit 21st overall in goals per game (2.47), nearly half a goal down from last season (2.92), when they were seventh in the league.
"When you're struggling offensively and losing, it falls on the guys that are counted on to score, and it hurts. Guys take it personally. Obviously I'm one of those guys," said Cleary, who has nine goals in 45 games.
Monday night's 4-0 win over the visiting Phoenix Coyotes, only the fourth time in a dozen games the Wings scored three or more goals, was a welcome sight.
"We also scored three on the power play, which was really huge, to be honest."
Filppula had only one goal and one assist in his past 15 games before Monday's tally, so the Wings hope he's ready to turn it around. The center plays nearly 18 minutes a game, and the Wings need consistent offensive production from him.
A tough test awaits Wednesday night in the reigning Cup champs from L.A.
"L.A. is a great team," Cleary said. "They started the season with a bit of a lull, which happens. But they're firing on all cylinders now.
"That team is rolling now. L.A. can't win the division but they're still jockeying for home ice. It's a big game."
The Kings' 2-1 road loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, coupled with the San Jose Sharks' 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars, has L.A. and the Sharks tied at 57 points in the 4-5 battle in the West; the Kings own the tiebreaker, with more regulation/overtime wins. To Cleary's point, the Kings still have plenty to play for in terms of wanting to nail down the No. 4 spot.
After Wednesday's game, the Wings host the Nashville Predators the next night before closing out the regular season Saturday at Dallas.
Just get in. That's all Detroit wants. Because after that, who knows in this parity-filled league?
"Obviously you have Chicago and Anaheim playing really well [in the West], and Pittsburgh in the East, but other than that, everybody is so tight," Cleary said. "If you don't think that all you need to do is get in and that you have a legitimate chance to move on, then you're crazy; because you really do. We have a great goalie [Jimmy Howard], and a great goalie can bring you a long way."
11dScott Burnside and Craig Custance