Ex-Detroit Red Wings' Darren Helm propels Colorado Avalanche into conference finals

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Darren Helm began his NHL career helping the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup — and now he's doing the same for their old arch rival. 

Helm secured the Colorado Avalanche a spot in the Western Conference finals when he scored with 5.6 seconds remaining in regulation Friday in Game 6 against the St. Louis Blues. The Avs haven't been to the West finals since 2002, when they lost Game 7 to the Red Wings, 7-0, at Joe Louis Arena.

"We had three guys going hard to the net and I was just kind of trailing," Helm told reporters. "The pass bounced off the side wall, I just wanted to get the puck on the net, and it found its way.

The Avs won the game, 3-2, and the series, 4-2. They advance to play the Edmonton Oilers, pitting Helm against former Wings general manager Ken Holland, who was named Oilers GM in May 2019.

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Colorado Avalanche center Darren Helm celebrates his game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues. He scored with 4.9 seconds left.
Colorado Avalanche center Darren Helm celebrates his game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues. He scored with 4.9 seconds left.

Helm signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Avalanche last summer, after the Wings let him know he would not be re-signed. Helm, 35, spent the better part of 14 seasons with the Wings, who drafted him at No. 132 in 2005.

Helm has a neat story to tell his kids about how he started in the NHL. He was called up late in the 2007-08 season, making his debut March 13. When the playoffs began, he had appeared in just seven games. He earned his first NHL point April 20, in his second playoff game, in Game 6 of the first-round series against the Nashville Predators. The Wings won the series that game.

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Helm stayed in the lineup, excelling in his role centering the fourth line. The Wings swept the Avalanche in Round 2, and Helm scored his first career goal in the next series, when the Wings took down the Dallas Stars in the West finals.

Helm scored again in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. One game later, he celebrated the Wings' 11th Stanley Cup championship. Helm had two goals and two assists in 18 playoff games. (He had four goals and one assist over 23 games in the 2009 playoffs.)

It was an impressive start to what became a long, solid career with the Wings. Teammates nicknamed Helm, "Danger" because of his speed. He was known for creating breakaways — but also endured good-natured ribbing for how often he failed to convert on those. (He did convert, though, back in December, when his breakaway goal was part of a 7-3 barrage against the Wings). 

At his peak, Helm scored in the 12-15 goal range (2013-16), serving as a steadfast grinder and penalty killer. As the Wings transitioned into a rebuild and, with the arrival of general manager Steve Yzerman in 2019, the focus turned to young players, Helm no longer fit in Detroit. His strengths — speed and defense, the experience from 82 career playoff games and a Cup title — made him a solid fit for the Avalanche, though, which entered the season as a Stanley Cup favorite.

Helm put up seven goals and 15 points in 68 games, almost mirroring the nine goals and 16 points in 68 games he had with the Wings in 2019-20. Friday's point was his first goal and second point in 10 games this spring.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ex-Detroit Red Wings' Darren Helm scores clinching goal for Avalanche