BOSTON -- It's not the first time former Bruins Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler have been back in Boston since they were both traded to the Atlanta Thrashers on Feb. 18 in exchange for Rich Peverley.
It is the first time, however, Stuart and Wheeler have played at TD Garden since the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last spring.
Boston will host the Winnipeg Jets (formally the Thrashers) Saturday night, and for the pair of former Bruins, the homecoming will be a bit strange as they skate under the 2011 Stanley Cup banner.
Stuart, a defenseman who was originally drafted by the Bruins in the first round (21st overall) in the 2003 NHL entry draft, was proud of his former teammates last spring when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in the finals, but it was still difficult for him to watch.
"It really was," he said. "It was a weird feeling. I was happy for those guys and happy when they won, but it's also really tough to watch because you want to be there and you want to be a part of it."
Stuart played a total of 283 games for the Bruins during his six seasons in Boston. In fact, he played in all 82 games in back-to-back seasons in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. Injuries plagued him at times during his career in Boston, especially the last two seasons he was here before the trade. While he was watching the playoffs, he did think about the what-ifs.
"It's so hard not to," he said. "You try not to dwell on it too much because you'll make yourself go crazy. That thought definitely creeps in and you've just got to move ahead. I'm happy to be in Winnipeg. I'm happy where I ended up."
Wheeler, a forward, played a total of 221 games with the Bruins and collected 110 points in 2½ seasons in Boston. He, too, admitted it was difficult to watch his former teammates hoist the Cup.
"It was gratifying but it was hard at the same time," Wheeler said. "You want to be a part of it but you certainly take something out of it, just watching the guys you played with a few years. That was the hardest part about being traded. Stewie and I both knew (the Bruins' winning the title) was a real possibility that was going to happen and to see it come true was certainly a mixed bag of emotions. I'm definitely happy for all the guys. They certainly work harder than anyone and they deserve it."
A few times during the Stanley Cup playoffs, both Wheeler and Stuart would get together to watch the games and talk about what the experience was like to watch as outsiders.
"We were both happy for the guys, but at the same time you wish you could be out there, too," Wheeler said.
On the other side of the transaction that sent Stuart and Wheeler to Atlanta, Peverley turned out to be an important reason why the Bruins were able to win the Cup.