Finally! Helm Cooking

There was the puck, just sitting there, after all that, after all the blood and guts spilled on the night, after the exhausting 45 previous shots, after the Blackhawks’ tying goal that forced overtime, after the banging and swiping and pushing and groaning on every Detroit puck Chicago’s Cristobal Huet somehow managed to repel – heck, he stopped the last shot of regulation by flipping up his leg while lying on his stomach! – after all that, are you kidding? The puck just there? Inches from the goal? An open net? All Darren Helm had to do was swing?

Well. If that was easy, it was the only easy thing of the night.

And Helm wasn’t missing.

In, over, Red Wings moving on. It might as well be overtime, because overtimes are likely to come again. It might as well be close, because close games are surely on the horizon now. It might as well be hard, because, heck, it won’t get any easier. The Wings had to scrape, claw, fight and substitute their way back to the Stanley Cup finals, and they’ll have to do the same to win them. But they’re getting the chance.

And that’s all you want.

Back in the Big Room.

A fitting ending

“I just saw it sitting there, I got a good shot at it and made sure it went in,” Helm said after the game-winner in overtime that gave the Wings the 2-1 victory, the 4-1 series clinch, and a return to the finals to again face Pittsburgh, the first repeat of Cup finalists in 25 years. Last year, the Wings won, but Helm almost didn’t get his name engraved on the Cup, because he didn’t play enough regular-season games.

This year, if they win it, he should get capital letters.

Because here, on a night when the furniture seemed to be moving – no Nicklas Lidstrom, no Pavel Datsyuk, no Jonathan Ericcson – the Wings had to find a way to win, and that meant if your first effort didn’t work, you go for the second, if the second’s a bust, you go for the third. Chris Osgood exemplified this mightily, stopping 30 of the hardest shots he faced in this series, swatting one, and seconds later, kick-saving another, kicking one then, seconds later, blocking another. Osgood, beaten just once on a difficult angle, was terrific, outstanding, perhaps the largest reason the Wings won this game.

But Helm was the exclamation point.

The way to advance

At not even 6 feet tall, and not even 200 pounds, this 22-year-old kid out of the Manitoba Junior League had 12 hits Wednesday night, seven more than any other player on the ice. And late in the second period of a scoreless game, he went into the corner with the puck and didn’t come out until he could barely breathe.

It was a power play for Chicago, so Helm’s job was to kill time, and man, did he do his job. Fighting off Brian Campbell, fighting off tough guy Colin Fraser, keeping the puck, eluding capture, spinning, turning, getting free for a shot on Huet – A shot? Short-handed? By himself? – then somehow getting the puck back and fighting three more players, scraping all but a few seconds off the clock on the penalty kill.

Helm got no points for that display of guts, nothing in the stat sheet, just a throaty standing ovation from the Joe Louis Arena crowd and a few well-earned head pats from his teammates. But make no mistake. It’s plays like that which just sent the Red Wings into the Stanley Cup finals, and it’s going to be plays like that if they want to win them.

“He’s like the energizer bunny,” coach Mike Babcock said.

“Nothing short of amazing,” Dan Cleary said.

“Helm played a heck of a game,” said Joel Quenneville. And he coaches the OTHER team.

Helm will tell you he’s just one of the guys, and he is. The depth of the Red Wings is their biggest strength, and once again, come Saturday night, it’ll be the team-oriented Red Wings against the superstar-led Penguins, and the TV cameras will be all over Sidney Crosby – at least until Henrik Zetterberg is all over him.

But this is where they wanted to be, back on center stage, the crown sitting just a few feet away. Give Ozzie a water bottle. Give Helm a fresh battery. Let the Big Room games begin.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. www.freep.com/mitch.

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