In late February, defenseman Brad Stuart
was five weeks from the end of a disappointing season, his first with the Los Angeles Kings
. Now he's two wins from being on a Stanley Cup winner, and he owns a game-winning goal in the Final.
The Detroit Red Wings
, seeking to get stronger on defense after a rash of midseason injuries, acquired Stuart from the Kings at the trade deadline. The price, a second-round pick in next month's Entry Draft, seems like a bargain after his play in the Final against Pittsburgh.
Stuart and defense partner Niklas Kronwall
are an incredible plus-6 in the two games -- they've been on the ice for all six of the Wings' non-power play goals while contributing to the stifling defense that has held the Penguins without a goal in back-to-back games.
He also contributed offensively, blasting a slap shot past Marc-Andre Fleury
6:55 into the game to give the Wings the lead for good in a 3-0 victory that put Detroit up two games as the best-of-seven series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
Stuart's goal was his first since March 9, and he added an assist for his first multi-point performance as a Red Wing.
"I kind of saw that I was going to have some time," Stuart said of his game-winning goal, on which Valtteri Filppula
fed him a pass and then provided a screen. "I just tried to buy some time for our guys to get it in front. They did a great job of getting there and creating a screen and it found its way into the back of the net."
Being in the Final is quite a change for a player who looked like his vacation would be starting April 7.
"We still have two wins to go, but I'm having a lot of fun," he said of his unexpected trip to the Final. "Coming from the last-place team in the League to the first-place team, I've tried to take advantage of it. It's been a lot of fun and we've got to keep it going."
One reason that Stuart has prospered in Detroit is that he was coming to a defense corps that already had elite players such as Nicklas Lidstrom
and Brian Rafalski
, as well as some of the NHL's most conscientious checking forwards – including Selke Trophy finalists Henrik Zetterberg
and Pavel Datsyuk
"You get into a situation like this, there's a lot of attention paid to your top players, your top offensive guys," he said. "It creates a little more opportunity for guys that are on your second and third lines and defensemen. It's the time of year maybe you get some unexpected goals. That's what can make you a good team.
"It's a team effort. It's not strictly defensemen. It's forwards getting back, not getting caught deep, and making smart reads. When the forwards are doing that, it makes it easier."
The Red Wings' task now is to carry over the momentum from their two dominating wins at home to Game 3 at the Mellon Arena, where the Penguins are 8-0 during the Playoffs and have won 16 consecutive games since a shootout loss to San Jose on Feb. 24. Stuart and his teammates know they'll need the same kind of fast start they had in Game 2, when the Wings led 2-0 before the Penguins got their first shot on goal.
"They've been great at home," he said. "I don't think they've lost, so we've got to expect a lot more energy, probably right at the start of the game. They're going to have that extra jump, so we have to be prepared for that. Just keep doing what we're doing. We don't have to change anything."
The only change the Wings made from Game 1 to Game 2 was the addition of forward Johan Franzen
, who had 12 goals in his first 11 playoff games before missing the next six with concussion-like symptoms. Franzen took a regular shift and also assisted on Filppula's third-period goal that iced the win.
"I felt OK," he said after playing 16:21 and taking an unpenalized hit to the head from Pittsburgh's Gary Roberts
. "I felt a little bit better than I expected. So it's good to be back in again. I really missed it. It's a lot of fun."
Lidstrom said Franzen looked none the worse for wear, considering that he hadn't played for more than two weeks.
"He skated real well," Lidstrom said. "Looked like he was handling the puck real well. Sometimes you lose that a little bit. But his timing, I think, was on, and his carrying ability was good. He had a strong game for not playing six games."