DETROIT // Darren Helm scored a series-deciding overtime goal to ensure the Detroit Red Wings booked a return ticket to the Stanley Cup finals with a 2-1 Game Five victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday. In a repeat of last year's title showdown, the defending champions will host tomorrow's Game One against a resurgent Pittsburgh after the Penguins eased into the finals with a 4-0 series sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
It marks the first time the same two teams have met in the finals in consecutive seasons since the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders clashed for the Cup in 1983 and 1984. Helm sent the Red Wings back to the finals for the fourth time in 12 seasons when he slammed home a loose puck as it trickled across the crease 3:58 into the extra-session to give Detroit the Western Conference best-of-seven series 4-1.
"I just saw it sitting there, took a whack at it and made sure it went in," Helm said. The grind of the Stanley Cup play-offs had taken its toll on both teams, who were missing key players for Game Five. Gone from the Detroit line-up were captain Nicklas Lidstrom and MVP finalist Pavel Datsyuk, while the Blackhawks were without first choice netminder Nikolai Khabibulin and leading scorer Martin Havlat, still feeling the affects of jarring hit from Niklas Kronwall in Game Three.
The Red Wings were also without Lidstrom's replacement Jonathan Ericsson, after the defenseman left morning practice complaining of abdominal pain. He was taken to Detroit Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and underwent immediate surgery. Despite fielding a patchwork line-up, the veteran Red Wings had just enough experience and depth to hold off the young Blackhawks. "Obviously with the people we've had out he [Helm] has gotten more-and-more opportunity," the Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
"I think he's the kind of player that people here in Detroit can relate to. "He's a blue collar guy. Goes out there and works hard and gives an honest day's work every time he's out there." Eager to avoid a trip back to Chicago for a sixth game, the Red Wings played with urgency, out-shooting the Blackhawks 21-9 in the opening period. Back-up netminder Cristobal Huet was dazzling in the Chicago net against a 46-shot barrage, including four in overtime.
Dan Cleary broke open the scoreless contest 6:08 into the third, parking himself in front of the Chicago net and redirecting Brett Lebda's blast from the point past Huet. But Patrick Kane kept Blackhawks hopes alive, muscling his way down the right wing and rifling a backhand over Chris Osgood's shoulder. It would be the only puck to get past Osgood, who handled 31 shots. * Reuters