It’s not always the superstar that steps up in big moments. And for longtime veteran Darren Helm, being a playoff hero is in his DNA.
Precisely 13 years to the day Helm scored perhaps the biggest goal of his career — a series-deciding overtime goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals — the 35-year-old did it again. His tally with just 5.6 seconds remaining in regulation on Saturday was just the latest big moment during his 15-year career, the first 14 of which were spent with the Detroit Red Wings.
Helm helped the Avs eliminate the St. Louis Blues in Game 6, winning all three road games at Enterprise Center to advance past the second round for the first time since 2002. It was just his seventh postseason goal since that memorable moment in 2009. But his value is measured by more than just goals, especially in the playoffs.
“There’s no other guy that deserves it as much as he does,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said following Colorado’s 3-2 victory. “I remember being a teenager back home in Sweden watching him on those Cup runs with the Red Wings in ’08 and ’09.
“It’s been a pleasure playing with him and obviously he steps up big tonight.”
Helm was brought in on a one-year contract last offseason to give the Avs an additional veteran presence. But more than just his off-ice leadership, which head coach Jared Bednar, Landeskog and others have referenced on a number of occasions, Helm has solidified Colorado’s suddenly effective fourth line.
He played on the wing for a majority of the regular season but now finds himself at center flanked by fellow longtime veteran and trade-deadline acquisition Andrew Cogliano as well as young forward Logan O’Connor. The trio effectively kills penalties, implements a tenacious forecheck and mucks it up in the corners.
“That whole line was one of the better lines all night,” Landeskog said. “They were in the O-zone every single shift and that’s crucial at this time of year.”
Sometimes they even score the big goal. For Helm, it was the series-clincher. But when the Avs were trailing 1-0 in Game 3, O’Connor stepped up to even the score.
“Even take the goal away, they all had a great night and they’ve been huge for us all series.”
The Avalanche’s other two goals came from third-line center J.T. Compher. Heading into Game 6, Colorado had just one goal from the bottom six against the Blues, O’Connor’s aforementioned tally. It was the perfect ending to the scoring woes from the bottom six just two nights after Nathan MacKinnon ended his four-game goalless drought with a hat trick.
It seems like almost everyone is getting hot at the right time for the Avs. And just in time for a third-round series against the offensively gifted and top-heavy Edmonton Oilers.
Edmonton’s top line of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane have combined for an astonishing 12 goals and 67 points in 12 games. The Avalanche’s big three likely won’t match those numbers but will need a better effort from Mikko Rantanen (one goal), Andre Burakovsky (one goal) and others if they expect to make up for it with their added depth.
“There are a lot of good teams in the league and every team presents a different challenge,” Bednar said.
Both the Avs and Oilers are hungry for an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. Edmonton’s Western Conference Final drought came to an end after 16 years on Thursday when they eliminated the Calgary Flames in Game 5.
For both teams, advancing past the second round was an achievement to celebrate. But it’s still just eight wins out of 16 to obtain hockey’s holy grail.
“We’re only halfway to our goal. That’s the way I look at it,” Bednar said. “There’s only one winner. We want it to be us.”