ST. LOUIS --
As the St. Louis Blues
and Los Angeles Kings
finally lace the skates and begin what is expected to be a hard-hitting, hard-nosed and physical Western Conference Semifinals, two players quite familiar with one another will get re-acclimated shortly after at the drop of the puck Saturday night.
The Blues' David Backes
and the Kings' Anze Kopitar
will see a lot of ice time together, and they'll be in each other's way more times than they might care to see but both will be faced with the challenge of overcoming what the other has to bring.
Backes is the Blues' checking specialist and just got done engaging with San Jose's Joe Thornton
in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. It will be contrasting styles when going up against Kopitar and his linemates.
"Joe's a little bit bigger of a body, but I think Kopitar's got a speed element ... he's one of the fastest guys in the league," said Backes, who finished with one point in five games against the Sharks. "If you've seen me skate, I'm not.
"There's a physical element on my side that needs to balance out his speed. It's not one-on-one. We're not out there playing one-on-one on a full sheet [of ice]. I've got linemates [David Perron
and T.J. Oshie
] and he's got linemates [Dustin Brown
and Justin Williams
] helping him. I think the collective unit needs to be better than their collective unit and we'll see if that happens."
Kopitar, who saw a lot of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler
in their quarterfinal series, had a goal and three assists in five games. He expects a different challenge facing Backes but is quite familiar with it.
"It's going to be a physical game," Kopitar said. "I have seen him quite a bit over the last couple seasons. It's nothing new. I'm sure the intensity's going to be high and I'm sure it's going to be a physical game.
"I don't think [Kings coach] Darryl [Sutter] was too big on matchups even the first series. He was rotating lines and was pretty much going with his feeling on whoever was going. ... We're going to come out, we're going to have to play. If the matchups are important to them, they're probably going to match it since we're here. For us, we just have to go out and play."
Brown was a teammate of Backes' at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
"Just a big, straight-line body ... he does a lot of the little things right," Brown said of Backes. "You don't see him change his game too much. That's why he's probably successful on a nightly basis. He's big, he's strong and he knows a straight-line game, physical ... he's just hard to play against in general."
Sutter is equally as impressed with Backes.
"He's one of the really good young captains in the League," Sutter said. "I think he has an identity and it's a strong one. He plays both sides of the puck, plays a 200-foot game. We're lucky we have a couple centermen like that, too, so hopefull we can saw that off a little."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock would like to see more offense from the Backes line, which collected two goals and five assists but understands their commitment to defending playing with a lead the majority of the last series.
"The first thing he has to do is trust his linemates a little more and secondly he's got to play more reckless," Hitchcock said. "He played safe ... and playing against Joe is no day at the beach. Joe was dialed in and Joe was playing for his life. He was a terrific player in our series, so David had his hands full. The other thing is, sometimes 5-on-5 with as much as David plays on the power play and he kills penalties, sometimes 5-on-5 is a rest and we want to get him past that, where he's really contributing more 5-on-5 because he's back playing a little more reckless and not so careful. He plays reckless on the power play, which is great, it helps us. He's obviously a great penalty killer. We just want him to trust his linemates and not have to be the safety net that he thinks he has to be all the time."
Added Backes: "It's kind of situational, who you're out against, time of the game, score of the game ... that kind of dictates it. Luckily in the series against San Jose, we were faced with leads and just protecting them and making sure we took care of mostly in the defensive side.
"There's going to be times in tie games when you need a goal and we're going to have to wade it on the other side. There's a balance there that needs to be found; I don't think it was perfect in the first round. It was good, but we need to be great in order to win this series."