The Detroit Red Wings gave him another shot. The gritty forward took advantage, and the defending Stanley Cup champions are glad he did.
Cleary matched a playoff career high with two goals against the team that drafted him, leading the Red Wings to a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday. Game 2 is Tuesday night in Detroit.
Cleary was drafted 13th overall by the Blackhawks in 1997 but had just nine points in 41 games before being traded to Edmonton.
"I wasn't in Chicago very long, so no hard feelings," he joked.
Cleary's second goal came midway through the third period, 1:27 after Mikael Samuelsson's go-ahead score for the Red Wings.
Detroit's Chris Osgood made 30 saves, and Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 38 shots for the Blackhawks, who allowed an empty-net goal to Henrik Zetterberg.
Adam Burish gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead 5:25 in, but Cleary tied it a few minutes later. Johan Franzen put Detroit in front 2-1 late in the second period.
If the Blackhawks are going to have a chance, they'll likely need young stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to produce. Both were held without a point Sunday.