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Darren Helm: The Ultimate Glue Guy

After an admittedly average regular season, Darren Helm has become one of the Colorado Avalanche's most important depth players throughout their incredible Stanley Cup run.
Darren Helm

TAMPA BAY - "If you look throughout our lineup and pick one guy that's elevated his game the most coming into the playoffs, and has been as consistent as can possibly be and can make an impact every single night, it's been Darren Helm," explained Avalanche coach Jared Bednar on the morning of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. 

"It's just been a whole different level for us come playoff time, in a bunch of different ways. The physicality, the roles he's been asked to take on, the guys he's been asked to play against on a nightly basis, he's been exceptional"

Bednar's praise, coming from a coach not typically known for his long, near-romantic soliloquies in front of the cameras, speaks volumes to the growing legend of Avs' Glue Guy Extraordinare: Darren Helm. 

And Bednar's not the only one chomping at the bit to spread the good word, either. 

"Helmer's been a beast for us," said Cale Makar on the morning of the Game 2 back in Denver. 

"Actually, Helmer's just a beast in general." 

Makar would soon learn just how true his words are later that night, as Darren Helm rewarded his defender's praise with a goal in the Avalanche's drubbing of the Lightning in Game 2, gobbling up a turnover in his own zone before racing up the ice, carving through a pair of Tampa Bay defenders and wiring a perfectly-placed wrister over the shoulder of Andrei Vasilevskiy. 

It was one of seven goals that the perennial Vezina favorite would surrender on the night, cementing it as the worst game of his postseason career and pushing the Avalanche within two wins of a Stanley Cup. 

That blowout, as shocking as it may have been, served as something of a microcosm of Helm's performance this entire postseason.

The 35-year-old wasn't the star of the show -- far from it, in fact -- ceding the spotlight to marquee teammates such as Makar and Valeri Nichushkin as he often does. But the wily winger's under-the-radar contributions on both sides of the puck were vital nonetheless, playing a key role in tilting the final result in the Avs' favor -- something which, save for a mere two games in the second round, has been the story of his team's entire run. 

Helm was everywhere in Game 2, launching a playoff-high 12 hits onto Tampa's beleaguered lineup to go with his scoresheet contributions, and serving as an invaluable piece of the Avs' unstoppable offensive zone attack. 

For a player who, by his own coach's admission, had somewhat of an "average" regular season, Helm's resurgence could not be coming at a better time -- even if he won't admit it. 

"In the playoffs, I feel like everybody elevates their game," Helm explained in his trademark humble fashion. 

"It's not a surprise for 40 guys out there to be playing better than they usually do. So, it's a good challenge and it's fun." 

If facing team after team whose rosters happen to be playing at the peak of their powers is "fun", then Helm must be having a blast. 

The former Red Wings lifer has driven opponents absolutely bonkers during his even-strength depth minutes throughout the postseason, posting eye-popping totals in key metrics such as expected goals and scoring chances with 59.61 percent and 55.56 percent shares, respectively. When Helm is on the ice, very little goes the opposing way. And given how the bulk of his workload this series have come against the likes of Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, and Alex Killorn, the Avalanche's sheer domination of the Lightning's offensive attack begins to make a little more sense. 

"That's what this time of year is all about," said Avs' captain Gabriel Landeskog, seated next to Helm at the Amalie Arena podium. 

"We've talked about it all season long, about how our depth is what's going to separate us from other teams and push us moving forward. And guys have stepped up just like Helmer said. Everybody's elevated their game. And when top lines kind of cancel each other out, we believe we have a really good chance of winning hockey games" 

The Avalanche have certainly won their fair share of hockey games to reach the point they find themselves at, thanks in large part to the depth that Landeskog praises so effusively. Even if the box-score numbers doesn't necessarily show it on the surface, those contributions have been impossibly important, with Colorado's depth giving their star-studded engine the fuel to make it this far. 

Helm's two goals in 16 games throughout this run do not leap off the page. But as if to remain thoroughly on-brand, it's the context that makes them special, with Helm's one other tally prior to Saturday night being a buzzer-beater he snuck past St. Louis Blues netminder Ville Husso with just under five seconds left in Game 6 of the teams'  second-round series to book the Avalanche's ticket to the Western Conference final. 

With the Avalanche on the verge of wasting two separate opportunities to close out those pesky Blues and perhaps locking themselves into a Game 7 cage match, it was Helm, thrown on the ice in the dying seconds of an elimination game, that brought them home. 

What more could you want? 

Helm is one of two Avalanche players to enter this series with a ring on his finger, having climbed hockey's highest mountain as a rookie with the Red Wings back in 2008. He knows what it takes to get there, demonstrating night after night just how deep each player must dig within themselves to get to that vaunted peak. 

With a chance to bookend his career with another Stanley Cup now achingly close, Helm will need to plumb deeper than ever before. And if he does, you won't find a single person hesitant to sing the praises of the NHL's premier Glue Guy. 

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