Stuart proven to be a worthy investment
It's hard to believe there's anyone left out there who still feels that way.
It was Stuart who was relied upon the most heavily when the Wings were surprised to learn on Sunday that Nicklas Lidstrom would be unable to participate in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals due to a lower-body injury. Skating alongside Niklas Kronwall, Stuart logged more than 26 minutes of ice time and was a plus-2 in Detroit's 6-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
Lidstrom did not skate Tuesday morning at Joe Louis Arena and is questionable for Game 5 Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. EDT, VERSUS, CBC, RDS), when the Wings aim to earn a return trip to the Stanley Cup finals. Should Lidstrom be unable to go, at least the Wings know they have someone who can help fill the void.
"Stewie's been a horse for us, game after game, shift after shift," Kronwall told NHL.com on Tuesday. "He's working so hard out there, doing all the little things right. He's a leader by example out there. We're happy to have him."
The feeling is mutual. With less than two months remaining in the 2007-08 regular season, Stuart's Kings were in last place in the NHL. A trade to Detroit obviously changed everything -- a trade that Wings goalie Chris Osgood felt was necessary if Detroit was going to win it all.
"Stewie's one of those quiet guys. If you interviewed him, it'd be real tough to even get anything out of him, so I'll say it for him," said Osgood, who has recovered from dehydration and is good to go for Game 5. "He's just a good, all-around player. He does everything real well. When we need him most, he's always been there for us. Without him, I don't think we would have won last year."
On Tuesday, Stuart wasn't interested in receiving the bulk of the credit for what transpired some 48 hours earlier in Chicago. While no defenseman or forward was on the ice more in Game 4, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder believed Detroit's entire blue line corps stepped up in that impressive victory.
"That was a group effort from the six guys in the lineup," Stuart said. "Obviously, you're not going to replace Nick and what he can do. Each one of us just takes a little extra responsibility and maybe a couple of more minutes. We've all kind of had to do it before, whether it was here or somewhere else."
Perhaps that's why Stuart managed to spend nearly half of Game 4 on the ice. While that might take its toll on some players, Stuart said he felt fine on the flight back to Detroit Sunday night.
"It's easier to play with the lead than it is behind," Stuart said. "I think as a group, we were kind of able to play smart and reserve ourselves a little bit as opposed to trying to play catch-up. I think we all feel pretty good."
After a five-goal victory, it's easy to understand why. It truly was remarkable considering the Wings were forced to play without the likes of Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and veteran forward Kris Draper. Still, Stuart brushed aside any thought of Detroit patting itself on the back after handling Chicago the way it did.
"The way we looked at it, we won the game," Stuart said. "It doesn't really matter how many goals we won by or, in the same vein, how many goals we lose by. We won the game and that's all that matters. We move on from that. We don't get too high on ourselves because we won by however many goals. We just move on. A win's a win, and at this point in the season, it doesn't matter by how much."
What matters is that the Red Wings continue to execute their game plan, which mainly consists of puck possession and limiting the opposition's opportunities. Whether or not Lidstrom is back for Game 5 to help chip in, the Wings can take a deep breath and know there's still more than enough on the blue line to win games.
And in these playoffs, Stuart -- who has 1 goal, 6 assists and a plus-8 rating this postseason -- has proven that time and time again.
"I think he's just getting better and better," Kronwall said. "I don't think I've ever seen him play better. He's doing it all for us. He's huge on the PK. Playing that many minutes, the way he does, that's a tough job. But he's doing a great job for us."