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Back To The Finals

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Detroit Red Wings winger Marian Hossa (81) shakes hands with Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) after the Red Wings' 2-1 overtime win in Game 5 of the Western Conference hockey finals in Detroit, Wednesday, May 27, 2009. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
DETROIT -- The defending champion Detroit Red Wings are on their way back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Darren Helm's goal 3:58 into overtime gave the Wings a 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night to wrap up a five-game victory in the Western Conference Finals.

Helm had a wide-open net to tap in a loose puck after Tomas Holmstrom nudged the rebound of Brett Lebda's shot through Cristobal Huet's pads and through the crease. Lebda's shot from the left point missed the net but took a hard carom back in front, and Huet couldn’t control the puck.

"They made a nice play," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "The end boards are more lively here than in any other building. There were some scrambles as the game progressed.

"We got hemmed in our own zone on that shift. It was a tough one."

After more than 46 minutes of scoreless hockey, the Wings got the first goal 6:08 into the third period when Dan Cleary scored his fifth goal of the series. Cleary deflected a point shot by Lebda past Huet for his eighth goal of the playoffs and fifth of the series.

That looked like it might be the series-winner before Patrick Kane -- invisible through the first four games -- got his first of the series at 12:53. Kane raced down the right side past Jiri Hudler, went to the outside of Lebda and whipped a high backhander that beat Chris Osgood to the short side. It was his ninth of the playoffs -- but his first since a Game 6 hat trick in the previous round against Vancouver.

Huet sent the game into overtime by making the save of the night with 17 seconds left in regulation. He stopped a wrist shot by Marian Hossa from the right circle, then was sprawled on his stomach but somehow got a pad on Johan Franzen's backhand rebound -- short-circuiting an impending eruption by the 20,066 fans at a sold-out Joe Louis Arena. It was his 41st save on 42 shots; Osgood stopped 30 of 31 through regulation.

"He played great," Quenneville said of Huet, who was hooked in a 6-1 loss in Game 4. "He kept us in there in the first period and gave us a chance to be in the game. He deserved a better fate."

With Chicago out of the way, all that's standing between the Wings and back-to-back Stanley Cups are the Pittsburgh Penguins -- the team they beat in six games last spring to win the championship. The Penguins earned a return engagement on Tuesday by completing a sweep of Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals. Game 1 of the Final will be played Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.

"It was a shorter series than we thought, but every game was tight," Osgood said after the Wings won their seventh consecutive playoff series. "We need to get some guys healthy for the next series. We made it two games without those guys, but we don't want to do any more."

Both Detroit and Chicago entered Game 5 shorthanded due to injuries, but the Red Wings incurred a surprising loss after the morning skate when rookie defenseman Jonathan Ericsson complained of abdominal pain and underwent an appendectomy. He joined top defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (lower-body injury) and No. 1 center Pavel Datsyuk (foot) on the sidelines. Chicago was without starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (lower-body injury) and top scorer Martin Havlat (head and shoulder injuries).

Khabibulin's absence meant another start for Huet, who didn't play well in Game 4. The Wings spent the first period firing away at Huet, getting 21 shots on goal, their most in any period this spring -- but coming away with a scoreless tie after 20 minutes.

Chicago's best chance among its nine first-period shots came near the 8-minute mark when Chris Osgood had to make a pair of big stops on rookie Colin Fraser from close-in on a 2-on-1. Osgood got a break when Lebda was able to clear the rebound from the crease after the second shot before any Hawks could get to it.

The Hawks easily killed Patrick Sharp's hooking penalty at 8:34, then had to kill off another power play when Chicago was called for too many men on the ice at 16:34. The Wings had four shots during the two-minute advantage, but Huet stood tall -- making back-to-back stops on a tip-in try and a backhander by Franzen.

"He kept us in the game in the first period," Kane said after the Red Wings took 30 shots at Huet in the first period to just 13 for Chicago.

The Hawks came out much stronger in the second period, forcing Osgood to make big saves on Fraser and Andrew Ladd in the first 3:30 as Chicago took the period's first four shots on goal.

Fraser and Tomas Holmstrom took matching roughing minors at the 8-minute mark, and Chicago wound up with a 4-on-3 power play 31 seconds later when Marian Hossa was called for slashing Dave Bolland. The Hawks came close midway through the advantage when Duncan Keith blasted a one-timer from the right circle that rang the near post.

Chicago got another power play at 11:24 when Lebda hooked Troy Brouwer, who still made Osgood come up with a good stop to keep the game scoreless. But Helm had the best chance -- after spending nearly 30 seconds killing the clock by playing keep-away, he cut out from behind the net and forced Huet to make a good save on his jam attempt.

Detroit received its third power play at 14:31 when Keith was penalized for slashing Henrik Zetterberg. But it lasted just 33 seconds before Holmstrom was called for tripping Matt Walker, evening the sides at four skaters each. Huet came up big twice during the 4-on-4, robbing Hossa on a wrister after he circled the net and came out into the left circle, then stopping Lebda on a straightaway 50-footer through a screen set by Hossa.

The period ended with the game still scoreless, with Huet having made 31 saves and Osgood 20.

Osgood preserved the 0-0 tie 58 seconds into the third period. Samuel Pahlsson snaked the puck away from two Wings behind the net and slipped it in front for a quick shot by Brouwer that Osgood not only stopped but covered.

Osgood robbed Kris Versteeg 3:30 into the period as the Hawks took the first four shots of the third period. Huet came up big 84 seconds later when he stopped Justin Abdelkader's 20-foot blast from the slot.

Osgood saved the day again midway through the period after a turnover by defenseman Brad Stuart, robbing Ladd on a one-timer from the lower left circle after a superb pass by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
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