Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer DETROIT -- If you go by his regular-season numbers, Darren Helm has just 23 games of NHL experience.
If you go by the past two postseasons, you'd think the 22-year-old has been doing this for years.
Helm has yet to score an NHL goal in the regular season. But his third goal of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs came at 3:58 of overtime on Wednesday night, lifting his team to a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final with a pulsating 2-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals at Joe Louis Arena.
Not bad for a kid who played 55 games in the American Hockey League this season, even though he played a big role in Detroit's run to the championship 12 months ago. Like many of his teammates, there's something about this time of year that clearly brings out the best in the native of St. Andrews, Manitoba.
"Being in Grand Rapids (the Wings' AHL team) gave me a pretty big opportunity to go down there and develop," said Helm, who scored twice for the Wings last spring and went 13-24-37 in the AHL this season. "Coming up here and getting a chance to play, it's been a great experience for me. I try to pride myself on being a key player in playoffs. That's what I tried to do throughout last year's run and this year's run, as well."
With Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk out of the lineup with a foot injury, Helm has been one of several players to step up. Skating on a line with Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Holmstrom, the trio kept the puck in deep before Helm found it loose in the crease, where he poked it past Cristobal Huet to create pandemonium at The Joe.
"I thought our line did a good job keeping the puck in," Helm said. "We put a lot of pressure on them. I just saw it sitting there and got a good whack on it just to make sure it went in."
Seeing Helm get the game-winner was no surprise to his teammates.
"Helmer's been nothing short of amazing," said forward Dan Cleary, who broke a scoreless tie 6:08 into the third period when he redirected Brett Lebda's shot from the point past Cristobal Huet, who made 44 saves.
Helm's contributions didn't begin and end with his overtime winner. He also played a key role in the second period when he helped the Red Wings kill off three power plays while the game was still scoreless. It was the type of effort that Detroit coach Mike Babcock felt everyone in the capacity crowd could appreciate.
"He's gotten better each and every game," Babcock said of Helm. "Obviously with the people we've had out, he's gotten more and more of an opportunity. I think he's the kind of player that the people of Michigan here and in Detroit can really relate to. He's a blue-collar guy. He goes out there and works hard and gives you an honest day's work every time he's out there. He's like the Energizer bunny."
Much like these Hawks were during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While such a loss will sting for a while, the Blackhawks' resurgence will make the winter months in the Windy City an exciting time for years to come. Chicago forced overtime on Wednesday night when young star Patrick Kane beat Chris Osgood with a phenomenal backhand shot with 7:07 remaining -- the only one of Chicago's 31 shots to beat Osgood.
"I think we should all be proud of the year we had," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who replaced Denis Savard four games into the regular season. "It was a great group to work with. These kids have been great all year long. They matured, they developed. It was a really good working experience.
"We got to find out what playoff hockey is all about. We went up against the best, and the lesson you can learn is that you don't just win the Cup and think you're the best team. You've got to go out and prove it. We should learn something from them."
Without question, Helm has learned plenty from those within his own dressing room. Whether it's 47-year-old Chris Chelios or 36-year-old Kirk Maltby or even 25-year-old Valtteri Filppula, there are plenty of teammates for Helm to lean on as he prepares to experience his second straight Stanley Cup Final. All of the aforementioned three have stepped up in the absence of Lidstrom, Datsyuk and veteran center Kris Draper, all out with injuries.
On Wednesday, Helm was one of many who stepped up when his team needed it most. All he did was score the biggest goal of his life.
"I'm going to remember that one for a while," Helm said. "They put everything they had on us. Our guys pulled through tonight really well."
Locked in a scoreless tie, the Red Wings' trio of Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Marian Hossa buzzed around the Blackhawks' zone for a solid 30 seconds before Cleary redirected Brett Lebda's shot from the point past Cristobal Huet at 6:08 of the third period. The goal ended more than 45 minutes worth of frustration for Detroit, which peppered Huet with 21 shots in the first period.
Red Wings center Darren Helm, who had at least eight hits in a game for the second time in this series. He had seven in Game 4 and finished with 12 in Game 5 -- to go along with the OT winner.
Detroit defenseman Derek Meech was a last-minute insertion after Jonathan Ericsson underwent an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday. Ericsson, who participated in the morning skate, was diagnosed with acute appendicitis after complaining of abdominal pain. It was Meech's second appearance this postseason; he played 4:49.
One of these days, Chris Osgood is going to get the credit he deserves. Osgood went toe-to-toe with Cristobal Huet in this one and came out on the winning end, earning yet another trip to the Stanley Cup Final.