Darren Helm was off balance, and it didn’t matter. His speed is his strength, and Saturday night, he blew the Leafs out of their own garden.

Helm used his first career hat trick to provide the Detroit Red Wings with a 4-2 victory at Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs, ensuring the Wings stay in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

“Darren Helm just went out there and threw us on his back,” Jimmy Howard said.

Howard carried a good deal of the load himself, especially during a slow start for the Wings and then a hectic finish for the Leafs, who spent the last 90-odd seconds with a man advantage. Howard made 25 saves, 10 of them in the first period.

Helm scored short-handed, and then on a deflection where he admitted he was just trying to get out of the way out of Jakub Kindl’s shot. Helm’s third goal came on a breakaway, when a little advice from Daniel Alfredsson made for a better recipe than the first time Helm broke in on Jonathan Bernier.

“Third one was a nice one, especially after I missed that first breakaway I had,” Helm said. “All three of them add up to I feel pretty good.

“Guys were kind of giving it to me after the first one after I missed, and not really having a move. Alfie told me to just try a bigger pump, go around him, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Helm hurt a shoulder when he crashed arm-first into the boards after the third goal, but he continued to play and said he hoped to be available again Sunday when the Wings host the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s been injured so much the past two years, but he’s managed to reach 10 goals in 34 games this season after a big night Saturday.

“It was the first hat trick I’ve ever had, which was pretty special,” Helm said. “Big game to win, too.”

The Wings ended a two-game losing streak in stretching Toronto’s to eight.

Gustav Nyquist scored his 26th goal of the season

Helm also got the Wings a four-minute power play while they had a 3-1 lead, but it was incredibly poorly executed.

“It was ugly, eh?” coach Mike Babcock said. “It was as ugly as I’ve ever seen in a long time. But that’s the way life is sometimes. We won.”

That looked a little bit in doubt after the Wings were schooled most of the first period by a Leafs team that had played the night before. The Wings fell behind midway through the period, when Joakim Andersson went the wrong way off a faceoff, leaving Cody Franson free to fire the puck in with a slap shot from the right circle. The Wings finished the period with seven shots, but few were good, and they were demolished in the faceoff circle and unable to establish any cycling.

Andersson amended for his error early in the second period during a penalty kill. Darren Helm had a breakaway, and after Bernier stopped Helm’s first shot, Andersson fed the puck back to Helm for a goal. Nyquist scored a minute and a half later, changing the tone of the game.