There was so much controversy heading into Game 4 of the Western Conference finals about Niklas Kronwall’s concussion-causing hit on Martin Havlat in Game 3 that you could be forgiven if you forgot that the Detroit defenseman is more than a body-crushing bruiser.
This guy and his partner, former Boston Bruins backliner Brad Stuart, can flat-out play. And with perennial Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom on the sidelines for Game 4 against Chicago Sunday, the Red Wings’ shutdown pair proved it could hold down the fort during a 6-1 rout that put the defending Stanley Cup champs up 3-1 in the series.
Stuart and Kronwall have been a solid pair since last season, when they helped the Wings win the Cup. After leaving Boston and bouncing from Calgary to Los Angeles, Stuart has found a home in Motown.
“I’ve just come here and been given a specific role. I’m not asked to be on the power play or produce offensively, which makes it easier to focus on being strong defensively and being physical,” Stuart said in the Free Press. “You hear that sometimes less is more, and here’s a situation where you don’t have to do everything, just play the way you play.”
One could argue that maybe more should be expected from the No. 3 overall pick (1998). But if Stuart has found his niche, that’s great. One can’t complain about his contribution to the Bruins’ cause. While the Joe Thornton trade that landed Stuart in Boston will be debated until the end of time, there’s no arguing that the bounty Stuart brought back to the Hub — Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew — has been a major factor in the franchise’s resurgence.
In Game 4, life was a bit easier for Stuart than for Kronwall, who had to deal with the boo birds because of the Windy City fans taking exception to the hit on Havlat. Kronwall, to his credit, thrived under the pressure and helped the Wings pull within one win of a berth in the Cup final. As has been well documented, the ‘Hawks’ wilted under the pressure and got out of line with their physical play. That allowed Detroit to ramp up its power play and put the ‘Hawks in a situation where they have to grasp at clichés like: “one game at a time.”
With their depth up front and on the back end, one wouldn’t expect the Wings to give Chicago many more games to focus on. And the Stuart-Kronwall duo will probably be a big reason for this series ending earlier rather than later.