The Detroit Red Wings relied on their trusty helmsman to steer them back to the Stanley Cup final.
Darren Helm scored 3:58 into overtime as the hometown Red Wings eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in Game 5 of the Western Conference final on Wednesday.
Helm, one of the more determined skaters in the tension-filled finale, flipped in a rebound for the series-clinching goal, his third of the playoffs.
"I just saw it sitting there, got a good whack on it and just made sure it went in," he said.
"Those are the kind of goals you score in the later stages in playoffs," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville claimed. "We got hemmed in their end — it was a tough one."
Helm has yet to score for Detroit in 23 regular-season games, but he has five goals in 34 post-season games.
"I think he is the kind of player people here in Detroit can relate to," Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said. "He is a blue-collar guy, goes out there and works hard and gives and honest day's work every time he is out there."
Detroit, the defending Stanley Cup champion, took the best-of-seven series 4-1, and will meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in a rematch of last year's final.
"It is a unique situation right now," said Red Wings sniper Marian Hossa, who played for Pittsburgh in last year's final and signed with Detroit last July 2.
"Definitely, this doesn't happen often. I try to make the best of the situation for myself and try to help the team win a Cup."
It represents the first rematch of Stanley Cup finalists in consecutive post-seasons since the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders clashed in 1983 and 1984.
Game 1 goes Saturday at Detroit (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET).
"To have the opportunity against Pittsburgh should be a lot of fun," Babcock said. "There will be a lot of hype."
Daniel Cleary opened the scoring in the third period for the Red Wings, the last team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998.
More than that, Detroit is seeking its fifth Stanley Cup in the past 12 seasons.
"Some guys have been playing golf, enjoying boating or whatever they're doing, but we're still playing," Red Wings defenceman Brett Lebda said. "This is why we play the game."
Chris Osgood turned aside 30 of 31 shots, and held the fourth-ranked Blackhawks at bay until Patrick Kane scored the tying goal late in the third period.
"We blew them out one game, but by no means was it easy," Osgood said.
"It is pretty hard kick to the ribs," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews muttered. "It stinks quite a bit."
'He is to be commended'
Cristobal Huet made 44 saves between the pipes for Chicago, including a remarkable kick stop to rob Red Wings forward Johan Franzen with 15 seconds remaining in regulation.
"He played great," Quenneville said. "He is to be commended."
Huet seemed unsettled in the previous two games, yielding five goals on 32 shots and being yanked in favour of rookie Corey Crawford in Sunday's 6-1 setback.
Huet, a former all-star, was pressed into service in Game 3 because of a lower body injury to Nikolai Khabibulin who, Quenneville revealed, "is progressing."
Not that it matters now.
Colin Fraser filled in for Martin Havlat, still feeling the effects of thunderous checks from defencemen Niklas Kronwall, who knocked him unconscious in Game 3, and Brad Stuart, who rocked him early in the second period of Game 4.
Detroit is riddled with injuries, too.
Nicklas Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's top defenceman, and Pavel Datsyuk, a finalist for the Hart, Selke and Lady Byng trophies, were scratched from the lineup with undisclosed lower body injuries.
Defenceman Jonathan Ericsson didn't dress after a successful appendectomy Wednesday at Detroit Medical Center.
Lidstrom and Ericsson were replaced in the lineup by 47-year-old Chris Chelios, the oldest player in the NHL, and Derek Meech, who hadn't played since Game 3 of the conference semifinal.
"Everybody picked up the slack," Chelios said.
Forwards Kris Draper (groin strain) and Tomas Kopecky (fractured cheekbone) and rearguard Andreas Lilja (concussion) also remain sidelined for the Red Wings.
'We weathered the storm'
Huet looked confident from the outset as he slid from post to post to turn away a flurry of shots from the likes of Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Holmstrom.
Osgood countered with the highlight save of the first period, foiling Fraser with his right pad on a nifty setup from Kane.
Fraser then failed to jam in the rebound before Lebda whisked the puck out of the crease and out of danger.
"We weathered the storm in the first period," Quenneville said. "He [Huet] gave us a chance to be in the game."
Huet had to be alert in the second period to kick out a quick shot from Hossa, who had muscled his way through the slot into open ice.
At the other end, Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith ripped a slapshot off the left post during a power-play midway through the frame.
Detroit finally broke the scoreless deadlock 6:08 into the third period.
Valtterri Filppula fed the puck to Lebda at the point and he took a slapshot that bounced toward the net, where Cleary deflected it past Huet for his eighth.
Moments later, the Red Wings threatened again, but Fraser hustled back to break up an odd-man rush involving Helm and Hossa.
The Blackhawks tied it 1-1 at the 12:53 mark, when Kane burst past Lebda and cranked a backhand shot under the crossbar for his first tally of the series and ninth overall.
After Blackhawks forward Adam Burish narrowly lost control of the puck in the crease on a solo effort, Hossa bulled his way by Keith and flicked a one-handed shot on net that Huet kicked out front.
Franzen tried to backhand the rebound over a sprawled Huet, but he lifted his right pad to stop the shot.
"The game he played kept us in it," Quenneville said.
Chicago prevailed over Detroit in eight of their previous 14 playoff series, but the Red Wings bounced the Blackhawks in five games the last time they met in 1995.