The Detroit Red Wings bench erupts after Darren Helm scores in overtime during Game 5 to put the Wings back in the final. (Photo by Tom Turrill/NHLI via Getty Images)
The role players were at the Helm.
The Detroit Red Wings can thank Darren Helm and the rest of the Motor City spark plugs for the fact they’ll be back defending their title in the Stanley Cup final this year.
Helm had already demonstrated his worth and, essentially, why the Red Wings as an organization are so successful long before he scored the overtime winner to oust the young Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.
Detroit is all about development and Helm is just the latest player, along with the likes of Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Ericsson, to prove the worth of a Red Wing education. They apprentice in the American League before seamlessly stepping into the role of contributing NHLer.
In all, the Wings’ support staff really shamed Chicago’s foot soldiers through all five games. Dan Cleary, plucked from the scrap heap after the lockout, led everybody with five goals in the series, including the opening marker in the 2-1 Game 5 victory. Helm wreaked havoc while killing a penalty in the second period of the decisive game, single-handedly hemming the Hawks in their own zone for nearly 30 seconds.
Filppula drew an assist on Cleary’s Game 5 marker and finished the series with one goal and seven points. He now has a six-game point streak going.
Chicago’s grinders, meanwhile, were nowhere to be found. It’s befuddling to contemplate how quiet Dustin Byfuglien was, Andrew Ladd failed to make much of an impression and Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland had just one goal between the three of them in the West final.
With stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane almost completely neutralized by Detroit’s defense, the Hawks really could have used more load-bearing forces up front.
With extreme honorable mention to the men in each crease, the performance of Game 5 clearly belonged to Marian Hossa. There’s one upside to not having Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup and it’s that Hossa finally showed the entire range of his gearbox. ‘Big Hoss’ represents a skill-strength hybrid few can match and he’s coming alive just in time to haunt his old team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the final.
For the Hawks, being beaten by the best can only serve as a good thing, provided they understand progress is not the birthright of a young, talented team. Just ask the Penguins about how difficult picking up where you left off can be. That squad required a coaching change and subsequent scintillating close to the season just to make the playoffs.
Chicago should feel really good about where this team is headed, but that doesn’t mean it’s feet-on-the-couch time for GM Dale Tallon. He can count on continued development from Kane and Toews in Year 3, but tweaks will be required and, assuming Nikolai Khabibulin leaves as an unrestricted free agent, Tallon has to hope the performance turned in by Cristobal Huet in Game 5 is indicative of the type of goaltending he’ll supply for the final three years on his contract.
But all things considered, even though you’re gone now, it’s great to have you back, Chicago.
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before and the games ahead, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.