BOSTON - Just two weeks ago, David Backes was nowhere close to lacing up skates.
The 35-year-old winger was still recovering from an upper-body injury suffered during a frightening collision with Ottawa's Scott Sabourin on Nov. 2 that left him wondering if he would ever play again in the National Hockey League.
After what he estimates is roughly 10 concussions over the course of his 14-year career, Backes believed it was best to take a step back and get some clarity regarding his neurological well-being - and, ultimately, his future.
He got that during a mid-November trip to an out-of-state neurologist, who quelled his concerns, as he was given a "clean bill of health" and assured that he was not putting himself in danger by returning to the ice.
As such, the road to a return commenced. And on Sunday night, the journey culminated with, perhaps, the greatest possible outcome.
Backes got back in the lineup and potted the winning tally during a third-period power play to lift the Bruins to a 3-1 victory - their seventh straight - over the rival Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.
"I mean, scoring a goal in the NHL is cool," said Backes. "To have some adversity, to put hard work in, to be back in the lineup and have that opportunity and then to make good on it is really cool to have that micro story line…two weeks ago I wasn't even skating and didn't know if I was done for my career. To go through the steps I went through to get healthy, to have that moment was special."
Video: MTL@BOS: Krejci sets up Backes' go-ahead PPG
The gravity of the moment was evident by the expression on Backes' face after he ripped home David Krejci's feed with 9:31 to go for his first goal of the season and a 2-1 Boston advantage.
"That was elation," said Backes. "You don't understand how small the window Krejci had to put that puck in. There's a guy above me and below me that I have to try to get off and he puts it right where he needs to and Jake [DeBrusk's] got it in front.
"I appreciate all those other efforts, some of which don't get recognized as much. But those guys did a lot of the work…first game back to have a go-ahead goal with 10 minutes left, get that opportunity on the power play, I appreciate all those opportunities."
The appreciation went both ways. Backes' teammates for years have praised the veteran's leadership and his ability to help bring a team together - on and off the ice. And their admiration was certainly apparent in the way they celebrated following the eventual winning marker.
"It's been a long road for him to come back and he was very excited to get back in the mix, even going back to last week," said DeBrusk, who added an insurance tally just under three minutes later to make it 3-1. "To see him get the opportunity and be in the mix…obviously, it was great to be on the ice to see him score that goal. It was a good feeling all around. Honestly, he deserves it."
Backes, seemingly unable to shed his ear-to-ear grin following the game, was humbled by the support he received in the dressing room.
"It's an awesome group of guys, the best group of guys," said Backes, who was denied a two-goal effort when Carey Price turned away his breakaway chance in the closing minutes. "What we were able to do last year to get to Game 7 of the Finals was no fluke because we genuinely care about each other and we're picking each other up or checking on each other when we're injured or not around the rink, which translates on the ice and what we're able to do.
"Quite a few guys have come up to me and I think they are genuinely happy for my success and that's not always the case in professional sports. We have an awesome group here."
Video: Backes scores in return from injury
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy admitted after the game that he didn't quite know what to expect from Backes after the winger's 13-game absence. But, despite playing a team-low 9:04, it was clear that Backes had some jump in his step, as he contributed three shots on goal and two hits, in addition to going 3-0 at the faceoff dot.
"I'm able to play with a clear mind and not overthink things or worry about my next hit maybe being my last one," said Backes. "I think I was able to go out there and play on instincts tonight and felt like I was half a step ahead and was able to influence plays and get sticks in lanes.
"That's one of those things when you're not thinking is sometimes better than overthinking and I was just out there playing the game."
Given his strong effort, Cassidy tabbed Backes as the bumper on Boston's second power-play unit for the B's third-period man advantage. It was a move that, obviously, paid dividends as Backes created just enough space to pot Krejci's feed for the winning tally.
"I don't know if that was lightning in a bottle or if I'll get another look there, but if it can get done once, maybe it can be done two, three, four, five times," said Backes. "Obviously, [Patrice] Bergeron is the best at that spot, so watching him take reps, working with [skating and skills coach Kim Brandvold], getting a lot of handsy things done in my road to recovery…I think being with him has really allowed me to free up my hands."
Backes' goal was one of Boston's three unanswered in the third period, the first of which came off a sizzling slap shot from David Pastrnak 6:16 into the frame. The rocket from the right circle was Pastrnak's 25th of the season, making him just the eighth player in the last 30 years to reach that mark in 27 or fewer games and 11th in NHL history to hit that plateau through December 1.
He is also the first Bruin since Phil Esposito on Dec. 15, 1974 to be the first player in the league to hit 25 goals for a season.
"He's playing a video game out there. I don't know what's wrong with that guy. It's so impressive to see that," said Backes. "He's down the wing, full speed, putting it where he wants to, winding up and off the post. I don't have words.
"You just sit there and it's cool to watch a guy playing in the league...obviously his start doesn't lie and he is one heck of a player and will continue to be. No different tonight, that was really special to watch."
Video: Bruins rally in 3rd period for seventh straight win