BOSTON — It’s been 18 games and nearly six weeks since defenseman Mark Stuart was in the Bruins lineup. But after today’s 7-0 destruction of the Carolina Hurricanes, the former first round pick looked like the rust was shaken off well before the opening puck drop.
A dislocated ring finger in his right hand kept No. 45 out of the lineup, but it wasn’t enough to keep him off the ice and staying in game-ready shape.
“I felt great because I’ve been skating for five weeks straight.” said Stuart after the game. “It’s not like one of those injuries where I couldn’t get on the ice and where I was trying to catch up. But it is a little different in a game…game pace.”
For a solid stay-at-home defenseman, lighting the lamp isn’t quite Stuart’s forte; his 14 career goals in 280 NHL games pretty much sums it up. But the physical 6-foot-2 defenseman blasted his first goal of the season in his return to the ice this afternoon — a slapper from the point that soared over the shoulder of Hurricanes’ netminder Cam Ward that would ultimately prove to the game-winner.
“I was just trying to get a shot off and I think it went off somebody’s pants.” he said.
Stuart played 23 shifts in 16:04 of total ice time. Along with the goal, No. 45 finished the contest with two registered hits, two blocked shots, and a team-tying high plus-3 rating. With the game being a blowout and completely lopsided allowed Stuart to log a little extra ice time today.
“I think that definitely helped. I got a little bit more ice time I think because of the score,” he said. “And in the third period we were rolling everybody.”
Stuart’s game has always been a physical one. He logged three fighting majors in 26 games this season before sustaining the injury back on Dec. 7 against Buffalo, along with 45 total hits.
But with nearly five minutes remaining in the final frame, Stuart was put in a sticky situation with Carolina’s Troy Bodie.
“Stew [Stuart] and the other guy there [Bodie] were just kind of jawing a little bit. It looked like they were getting pretty close so I just tried to get in there.” said Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid, who stepped in and took on Bodie for Stuart.
In addition to the the five-minute major for fighting, McQuaid also got hooked for the two-minute Instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.
“The guy’s coming off a broken hand. I think anyone would have jumped in there for him and that’s what Mac did,” said Bruins’ head coach Claude Julien. “He saw the situation and he just went in there and defended his teammate.” I think it was a little stiff on the aggressor because he just pushed him and the other guy dropped the gloves. But at that time of the game I think the referees wanted to keep control of the game.”
Stuart has been waring a brace on his right hand and under his glove for the past couple of weeks — along with some added protection on the outside. Having such braces, or anything on a players’ hand for that matter, prohibits him for fighting.
Stuart plans on wearing the brace for a couple of more weeks just to ensure that the finger heals all the way, and correctly. It’s something that he’s going to have to keep fresh in the back of his mind and remember that he can’t drop the gloves so freely as he’s accustomed to doing.
“I felt bad bad because I didn’t want to pout Adam in that situation, you kind of forget sometimes.” said Stuart. “Its frustrating but I thanked Adam for doing that for me. But I just got to remember that I can’t do it so I don’t want to put him in a tough spot there.”
“He’s not going to back down, so it was something I needed to do.” said McQuaid. “It kind of puts him in a tough spot, so someone’s got to jump in there for him.”