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Another setback forces Helm off the ice

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Darren Helm returned for one game in late January before the herniated disc in his lower back became inflamed again, sidelining the Red Wings' center for the remainder of the regular-season. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT Darren Helm recently had another setback in his recovery from a sore back that has kept him out of the Red Wings’ lineup all season.

This time, team doctors have all but shutdown the 26-year-old center, who hasn’t been on the ice since the injury flared up on May 4. It was while skating at Joe Louis Arena prior to Game 3 in the Anaheim series that Helm experienced pain again in his lower back.

“Something happened and I came off,” he said. “I was in quite a bit of pain, so I’ve stayed off.”

Helm has been told not to skate, and to only focus on resting the sore back, which was originally injured while lifting weights days before the Red Wings training camp last January.

The pain is so great that Helm’s exercise routine is now limited to the low-impact elliptical machine, as even sitting on a stationary bike causes too much discomfort.

When it comes to skating on his own, Helm doesn’t necessarily see it the same way as the medical professionals, which makes his situation that more frustrating, he said.

“The hardest part for me is knowing that I can go and probably twirl around, but at the same time we know it hasn’t been successful in the past,” Helm said. “We just have to find a different way to deal with it.”

Helm played in one game this season, skating 12-minutes with one shot against Minnesota on Jan. 25. But the next day, the disc in his lower back became inflamed again.

Still, through the numerous setbacks and bad news, Helm has tried to keep a positive attitude, though not easy at times.

“I try not to think about it or talk about it too often,” he said. “I feel better a little bit each day by doing what everyone is telling me what to do. So it’s progress. As long as I stay off the ice for a while it will get better, I hope.”

The good news, Helm said, is that there hasn’t been talk of off-season surgery.

“They haven’t found anything that warrants going under the knife,” he said. “We’re just doing what we’re doing, and it’s slow and not fun, but it needs to be done as I look forward my future and the few years that I have left here.”

POWER PLAY CHANGE: Based on the Red Wings practice at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, they might be going with a new look on the power play, which would be an extension of their top two forward lines.

That means Justin Abdelkader would get some rare time on the power play. In six NHL seasons, the former Michigan State forward doesn’t have a single power-play point.

“I don’t know, we’ll see, it was just one practice,” he said. “If I get the opportunity I’m just going to do what I do, go to the net, retrieve pucks and be hard on the puck.”

The Blackhawks were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in Game 3, and have now successfully killed off all 29 penalties taken this postseason.

The Red Wings, who scored six power-play goals in their opening series against Anaheim, would like to get their special teams revved up against the Blackhawks.

The Red Wings signed defenseman Mattias Backman to a three-year entry-level contract on Tuesday. He was Detroit's fifth-round draft pick in 2011. (Photo by Getty Images)

“Chicago does a good job blocking shots and fronting them,” Abdelkader said. “We just have to find ways to get the pucks on the net, create second and third chances by getting pucks back. They’re a good penalty killing team and any team that’s that good on the penalty kill for that long is doing a lot of good things. I think just commitment to their system is why it’s working. We have to find a way.”

BACKMAN SIGNS: The Red Wings have signed Swedish defenseman Mattias Backman to a three-year entry-level contract.

The 6-foot-3 mobile blue-liner had a solid second season in Sweden’s top league, producing two goals and 24 assists with a plus-5 rating in 52 games for Linköping.

Last winter, Jiri Fischer, the Red Wings’ director of player development, called Backman the most improved defenseman in Sweden who is under the age of 21.

“In the current game, where defensemen have to turn back quickly and go get the puck after a dump in while being chased by a guy who’s 200 pounds and flying at 100 miles an hour, he is one of the few who can really handle that pressure,” Fischer said. “He’s got that ability with the puck and he sees the ice. His personality on the ice from last year, because he was a late-bloomer, has gone from ‘I can’t make a mistake’ to now, starting to dictate the pace of the game.”

It’s expected that the 20-year-old Backman will participate in the Red Wings’ development camp this July. Team officials also hope to have him at training camp in September. However, per the new IIHF transfer agreement, the only way Backman stays in North America next season is if he makes the Red Wings’ roster. He can't play in the AHL next season, so he'll spend another year in Europe.

PLAYOFF TIDBITS: When Johan Franzen assisted on Pavel Datsyuk's third-period goal in Monday’s game, it was the Swede’s first playoff point in his last nine postseason games at the Joe Louis Arena. … The Red Wings are now 25-0-2 in the regular season and playoffs combined when scoring three-or-more goals this year. Since 2011, Detroit is 10-0 in the postseason when scoring three-or-more. … Goalie Jimmy Howard has allowed just one goal in each of his last two playoff games. Prior to that, he had gone 14 consecutive postseason games allowing two-or-more goals. … The Wings have won their last seven home playoff games against the Blackhawks. Chicago's last postseason victory in Detroit came on May 4, 1992. … Howard is the first Detroit goalie in 26 years to face 40-plus shots and allow just one goal in a playoff win. The last Wings’ goalie to do it was Greg Stefan against the Blackhawks in 1987.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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