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Stuart finishes in the money

by Brian Compton

Brad Stuart never envisioned the Stanley Cup Playoffs while with the rebuilding Los Angeles Kings, but a trade to Detroit made him one of the Wings' top four on defense and a Stanley Cup champ.
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PITTSBURGH – Just over three months ago, Brad Stuart was simply finishing out the 2007-08 season with the inexperienced Los Angeles Kings.

On Wednesday night, he became a Stanley Cup champion.

The 28-year-old defenseman, who landed with the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline to help the team's injury-depleted blue line, fulfilled a lifelong dream with Detroit's 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at Mellon Arena as the Red Wings overcame Monday's dramatic triple-overtime loss and claimed hockey's Holy Grail.

Standing on the ice after his team had just won the Stanley Cup, Stuart was simply in disbelief trying to figure out how he had gone from playing for a last-place team in Los Angeles to winning a championship with the Red Wings.

"I'm just fortunate," said Stuart, who was acquired for a second-round selection in this year's Draft and a fourth-round selection in 2009. "I'm so thankful I was given an opportunity. Everybody was great and made me feel comfortable. I can't say enough about everybody."

Stuart's arrival couldn't have come at a better time for the Red Wings, who stumbled a bit down the stretch of the regular season due to injuries to five defensemen. But once he was paired with bone-cruncher Niklas Kronwall, Detroit regrouped and held on to win the Presidents' Trophy.

"He really helped us," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "He stepped in and became a top-four defenseman and got to know our system and how we play. He really got better and better as the time went on. Him and Kronwall was a perfect fit. They're tough to play against. They can make plays, but they can be physical, too. That was something we needed as a team."

Stuart's solid play continued in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as he had a goal and six assists in 21 games. The most impressive statistic, however, was his plus-15 rating – an indication that the opposition didn't score much when Stuart was on the ice.

"Stewie has brought so much to the table," Kronwall said. "I don't think people realize how much he's meant to this team. His physical presence and the way he's played night in and night out … he's so valuable to this team."

While there wasn't any talk about his future during the on-ice celebration, the Red Wings will have a decision to make during the offseason as Stuart will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

After Wednesday night's championship-clinching victory, Detroit coach Mike Babcock sure made it sound as if he wants the defenseman back in the fold next season.

"Good for Stewie," Babcock said. "He better not be done (in Detroit) … we have to get something worked out here. He's just a good player and found a home here. He partnered with Kronwall and played real well. He was nervous at times in the Finals, but so were a lot of players. Sometimes you're thinking about it and all the emotions."

There were plenty of emotions running through Stuart's head during the celebration. It's not every day a player gets to go from the cellar to the penthouse in the same season, but that's exactly what happened to him. He was asked how long it took before he felt like a Red Wing.

"It takes a little while," Stuart said. "Obviously, the first couple of games were a little weird. It probably took a couple of weeks to feel like a part of the team, but everybody here was great. They never made me feel like an outsider, or anything less than a Red Wing. That helped."

His play certainly helped throughout the postseason. He made a tremendous impact during the second period of Game 6, when he laid a thunderous hit on Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

Overall, though, it's the efforts of everyone throughout the organization that leads to what transpired on the Mellon Arena ice when the final buzzer sounded. It was a moment that Stuart won't ever forget – regardless of where he plays next season and beyond.

"It's awesome," Stuart said. "Unbelievable. I've seen it a lot of times on TV as a kid, but being able to actually be the one who gets to lift it over his head … I don't even know what to say. Just a great experience."

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