Helm's OT goal gets Wings to Cup finals
Darren Helm and Dan Cleary are far from marquee players for the Detroit Red Wings.
The banged-up Red Wings, playing without stars Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk, needed Helm and Cleary to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday night.
Helm scored 3:58 into overtime, and Cleary had a goal in the third period in the defending champion Red Wings' 2-1 victory over Chicago that set up a Stanley Cup finals rematch with Pittsburgh.
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"We lose guys and we keep getting the job done," defenseman Brett Lebda said.
Detroit won 4-1 in a series that needed overtime in three of the last four games.
"We blew them out one game, but by no means was it easy," said goalie Chris Osgood, who made 30 saves.
The Red Wings and Penguins, coming off a four-game sweep over Carolina in the East, will open the championship series Saturday night in Detroit.
The series will start nearly a week ahead of schedule because NBC and the NHL didn't want a long layoff to stunt the excitement about the matchup.
One of the intriguing stories will be Detroit's Marian Hossa playing against the team he left behind as a free agent. Hossa turned down a long-term, lucrative deal from the Penguins last summer for a one-year contract because he believed the Red Wings had a better shot to win it all again.
"It's a unique situation right now, definitely this doesn't happen often," Hossa said. "I try to make the best of the situation for myself and try to help the team win a Cup."
The Red Wings are matching up with Pittsburgh in what is the NHL's first Stanley Cup rematch since the Edmonton Oilers beat the New York Islanders in 1984 after losing to them the previous year.
"To have the opportunity against Pittsburgh should be a lot of fun," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "There will be a lot of hype."
The Red Wings, the first defending champion to get back to the finals since New Jersey in 2001, are trying to become the first team to repeat since they accomplished the feat in 1997 and '98.
In the Western Conference finale, both teams were missing key players.
Detroit was without six-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Lidstrom; his replacement, Jonathan Ericsson; MVP finalist Datsyuk; and four-time Cup-winning forward Kris Draper.
"Everybody picked up the slack," said 47-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios, who played only because Detroit's blue line was so thin.
In addition to Khabibulin, Chicago faced elimination - for the first time this postseason - without star forward Martin Havlat.
Goalie Cristobal Huet kept the Blackhawks in the game, but a bad bounce for them and a fortunate one for Detroit ended the game.
Detroit sent the puck behind Huet, Tomas Holmstrom got it across the crease after the carom and, after fanning with a shot attempt from the edge of the crease, Helm was credited with the series-clinching goal after it went in off his skate.