Helm ignites offense in Wings’ shootout victory at Chicago

Darren Helm's goal was his career-high 13th -- with 26 games remaining.

Dennis Wierzbicki

With every game he plays in this breakout season, Darren Helm proves how important he is to the Red Wings.

How important?

"Pavel  Datsyuk wants to play with him," coach Mike Babcock. "Why? Because he works so hard…He’s come of age. He’s one of our most dominant players."

On a night when the Wings were being badly outplayed through much of the game, it was the Helm-Datsyuk tandem that produced both Detroit goals. And Jimmy Howard won his first shootout in eight chances in a 3-2 Detroit victory Wednesday night to start a six-game Western Conference road trip.

Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar scored the shootout goals for the Wings, both on nifty backhanders. Detroit improved to 3-7 in shootouts — the bane of the first half of their season — while ending a three-game losing streak.

Helm assisted on the first Detroit goal with a dazzling no-look, cross-crease pass to Tatar, who shot it into a yawning net at 16:10 of the second period for his team-leading 24th goal. Datsyuk set up the play, dishing it to Riley Sheahan coming off the bench on a shift change.

Datsyuk also made the play along the side boards to keep the puck in the offensive zone late in the third. He got the puck to slot, where Helm bounced a rebound shot off Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook for a 2-1 lead at 17:54 of the third period.

Both Detroit goals were answered in less than a minute by Chicago. The Blackhawks’ first goal by Brandon Saad shouldn’t have counted. The play was obviously offsides. Their second goal came amid a goalmouth scramble, when Kris Versteeg’s shot bounced high and rolled down Wings defenseman’s Niklas Kronwall’s right arm and into the net.

Helm also had the best opportunity for the Wings in a thrilling overtime, but his breakaway shot at Corey Crawford’s five-hole was stopped.

The Datsyuk-Helm combination, with Justin Abdelkader on the other wing, has been Detroit’s most dangerous unit in recent weeks. And it produced enough offense to support a brilliant effort by Howard to get this most-challenging road trip started off the right way.

Both Abdelkader and Helm are enjoying career years on Datsyuk’s wings. Helm’s goal was his career-high 13th — with 26 games remaining. How does he explain his success?

"Confidence has been coming. That’s a big part of the game," he said the other day. "That and health — and opportunity, playing with some pretty good players."

But Helm is careful not to get carried away. He’s well-aware of his role.

"When I start thinking I’m a skill guy, that’s when I get in trouble," he said. "I’m still one of those hard-working guys. I know what I need to do."

That work ethic, along the blazing speed Helm has been able to harness enough to keep him off the injured list, has made him one of the most consistently effective players in Detroit’s lineup.

Babcock marveled at Helm’s effort in the Valentine’s Day shootout loss to Winnipeg the other day.

"I don’t know who was more dangerous — Pav or him," Babcock said.

Both? They certainly were against the Blackhawks, and the Wings tucked away another two points in the standings to pull within four of Eastern Conference-leading Montreal.

They now head to Dallas for a Saturday night contest against the Stars.