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Wings drop Game 1, but also lose Helm

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Nicklas Lidstrom reacts to a Predators' goal in Wednesday's 3-2 loss in the series opener at Nashville. (Photo by Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For the last week and a half of the regular-season, the indissoluble message from Red Wings coach Mike Babcock beat home the importance of having a healthy Darren Helm back in the lineup for the start of the playoffs.

Without Helm, the fear was that the bottom six players wouldn’t be nearly as effective as they are when he’s on the ice grinding on the opposition’s defensemen.

So when Helm – who missed the final 10 games of the regular-season with a sprained left knee – was given the green light to play in Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinal, it came as a relief, especially for the penalty kill.

But after Helm flung his stick and gloves into the air late in the first period, and raced to the bench and down the tunnel that leads to the locker room, the Wings’ optimism was delivered a damaging blow that may produce greater consequences than the 3-2 loss to the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

The speedy Helm suffered a serious cut to the right forearm when he was struck by a skate blade after delivering a check to Predators forward Alexander Radulov. Helm was taken to a Nashville hospital, where he was undergoing surgery Wednesday night to repair the damage.

“We don't know to what extent or how severe, if any tendons were cut, I don't know that, but it was pretty severe,” Babcock said. “As soon as it happened he skated right to the bench when we were on the penalty kill, he'd never do that unless … It's a tough go but that's just the way things go.”

Without Helm, the Wings were forced to finish the game with 11 forwards, which threw off the line combinations and distributed his ice-time to others, including Henrik Zetterberg, who played six-minutes more than his 19-plus minutes per game average this season.

Helm’s presence on the penalty kill is sorely missed when he’s out of the lineup. And especially in this series, if Game 1 is any indication of how tight the on-ice officiating will be, the Wings don’t want to be without the speedy center for any length of time.

There were 17 minor penalties assessed in all Wednesday, with seven of them called against the Wings, including four in the first period.

“You’re so excited that he played tonight,” defenseman Kyle Quincey said. “Then losing him hurts our team big time, especially if the games are going to keep going like this with a parade to the box. He’s a huge player on our penalty kill, a huge energy guy for us and he’s one of the best skaters in the league. We’d love to have him.”

Helm’s injury is reminiscent of the cut suffered by Mike Modano last season when he had nerve damage and a sliced tendon in his wrist after getting cut by a skate blade in Columbus.

But Helm’s injury comes at the worst possible time.

Still, the Wings had ample opportunity to send Game 1 into overtime, but they didn’t get the necessary bounces that they needed to extend the game.

“Frustration’s not going to help us, or do us any good whatsoever,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Hopefully we can keep playing like we did in the last two periods and I think we’ll be just fine.”

The Wings’ goals both came on power plays. Zetterberg’s was unassisted in the second period, which tied the score at 1-1. With the Predators up 3-1, Tomas Holmstrom pulled the Wings closer with his goal at 17:53 of the third period.

However, the Wings were the stronger team, especially in the final two periods when they fired 16 shots at Preds goalie Pekka Rinne in each frame.

“I thought we let Pekka Rinne off the hook with our net-presence tonight,” Babcock said. “I didn't think we were good enough with our net-presence and I also thought on the power play we were slow with the puck a little bit and didn't shoot it at the net so we'll have to be better in that area and yet we won the specialty teams battle 2-0 and let's be honest, their first goal and their second goal were kind of seeing eye pucks. Those things happen in the playoffs.”

Bad breaks and luck bounces are always at the forefront of playoff hockey; it’s the nature of the game. The Wings outshot the Preds, 37-26, and played a better territorial brand than the home team. But now the Wings must rebound and hope for a win here Friday night and a split in the series before heading to Detroit.

“That’s what you have to expect in the playoffs; everything isn’t going to go your way, you have to respond as a team in Game 2 and you’re going to have your ups and downs throughout the series,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We just have to take the good parts that we did in this game and take that into Game 2.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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