There is more than a subtle bittersweet feeling whenever you see Darren Helm excel on the ice.
You can’t help but wonder might have been.
What might have been, if Helm, the speedy Red Wings center, wasn’t so gosh darn injury-prone.
What might have been, if the Red Wings could insert Helm into the lineup with impunity, with any semblance of regularity.
Unfortunately, Helm has been injury-prone and he has missed a wealth of games over the past two seasons-plus.
There’s no use crying over spilled milk, but when Helm does what he did tonight in Toronto—score his first career hat trick, and in the manner that he did it—it’s hard not to wonder if the Red Wings’ place in the standings would be higher than it is now.
But for now, they are high enough.
Helm’s three goals led the Red Wings past Toronto, 4-2, as the Maple Leafs have picked a lousy time to go on an eight-game losing streak—all in regulation, by the way.
Helm scored in just about every way imaginable as he used his many tools.
First, he used his speed on the penalty kill to bust loose on a breakaway, then when that attempt failed, Helm stuck around in front of the Leafs net, batted down a pass in midair from Joakim Andersson, and flipped a backhand past Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier to tie the game, 1-1, about three minutes into the second period.
For his next trick, Helm camped in front of Bernier and in a rare play, broke his stick deflecting Jakub Kindl’s slapshot past the Leafs netminder for a 3-1 Detroit lead as the Red Wings scored three times in a space of less than five minutes.
Finally, Helm showed his soft hands as he squirted free for another breakaway, using a nifty backhand-to-forehand move to deposit his third puck past Bernier to give the Red Wings a 4-2 lead at 8:38 of the third period.
The Air Canada Centre crowd booed the Leafs lustily as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Toronto actually led 1-0 but the Leafs have scored the first goal of the game just twice in their past 10 contests, and neither time did they win. The Leafs are two points behind the Red Wings (34-26-14) for a wild card berth, but Detroit has two games in hand.
Jimmy Howard made 25 saves for Detroit, which snapped a three-game losing streak.
And while every victory these days is to be savored, it’s also OK to admire Helm and be wistful and imagine him healthy all year. Chances are, the Red Wings wouldn’t be scrambling for a playoff spot with eight games to play.
BOTTOM LINE: The Leafs are playing with hardly any confidence these days, and it showed tonight.
THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: With eight games to play, it stands to reason that the Red Wings need at least 10 points to feel safe as far as the playoff race goes. That would give them 92 points, and it’s hard to imagine that not being enough to qualify.