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Backes Gets His Shot

After 13 years in NHL, veteran winger will get first opportunity to play for Stanley Cup

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - As the Bruins celebrated their Eastern Conference championship last Thursday night inside PNC Arena, there was one player getting the lion's share of attention.

After 13 seasons in the National Hockey League, David Backes was headed to his first Stanley Cup Final. And his teammates could not have been happier.

"It's awesome to see the passion and emotion that he had on his face after this game," said Brad Marchand. "He's been such a huge part of our group. He's such a great leader and we build so much emotion off the way that he plays. He's just such a phenomenal guy, great teammate, and he's had an incredible career.

"When you see a guy that's been around that long, he has an opportunity to play for a Cup, finally has that opportunity, it's a lot of emotion. [Patrice Bergeron] said it before. When you play in this league for a long time, you start to appreciate and understand how hard it is to win and how few opportunities you get to win the Cup.

"We have an opportunity to play for it this year and you could just see how excited he was. It was awesome to see."

Video: Backes looking forward to first trip to finals

Backes, no doubt, appreciated the kind words of his Black & Gold brethren. But he was quick to remind some of them, particularly Boston's young core, that they should be enjoying this opportunity for themselves. Because as he knows all too well, they don't come around very often.

"Some guys play 15-20 years in this league and never make it to a Stanley Cup Final," said Backes, who debuted with the St. Louis Blues in 2006-07. "We're blessed to be in this position and each and every guy should take this as potentially their only time…trying to remind those young guys, I appreciate you thinking of me. But think of yourself as well and think of the guy to your left and right.

"You could be 21 thinking that the Finals are a common thing every other year in your second year. But this is a rarity and we need to take the opportunity and make the most of it."

That is exactly what Backes has done throughout the Bruins' run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A healthy scratch for the opening game of the postseason against Toronto, the veteran winger was thrust into an unfamiliar position, one that required adjustments and plenty of patience.

"It's what's been asked of me and I think that's the character of our team, is whatever is asked guys are willing to do it," said Backes, who has five points (two goals, three assists) with a plus-1 rating and 33 hits in the postseason. "I've embraced it. It's served us well to have everyone embracing whatever role they're in and excelling in them. We're able to put the pieces together and play some pretty good hockey in the last two months."

Following the Bruins' lackluster loss to the Maple Leafs in Game 1, Backes was quickly reinserted into the lineup and made an immediate impact. The 35-year-old was back in for Game 2, riding alongside Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle, and delivered a game-high seven hits, while wreaking havoc as a physical presence.

That havoc paid dividends as just under five minutes into the game, Backes barreled in on the forecheck, turned a puck over behind the Toronto net, and found Coyle in front to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.

"We had a conversation the first time we sat him out, and we did in the playoffs as well. We did what we thought was the best lineup, right or wrong," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of his meeting with Backes following his first healthy scratch in mid-January against Philadelphia.

"He was a true pro the whole time and now he's kind of found what he can give us every night, whether it's 10, 14 minutes…he's done a real good job. He's at a stage of his career where he doesn't know how many more chances he's gonna get. He's never been here.

"I think if we can channel that, get it out of him every night we play, that's really helped the team. And he's terrific in the room."

Backes went on to play Games 3-5 in the Toronto series, before sitting out the next five contests as a healthy scratch. But with Boston needing another jolt after falling behind, 2-1, in the second round against Columbus, Backes once again got the call. And once again, he made a difference.

Cassidy placed the Minnesota native alongside Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci on the Bruins' second line for the final three games of the series - all Bruins victories. Backes collected a point in each contest, including a critical third-period insurance tally in Boston's clinching Game 6 victory.

"He's done what he did typically for us late in the year," said Cassidy. "He went in, played a lesser role, but played it well. High energy, physical. Played a lot with [Sean] Kuraly, [Chris] Wagner, [Joakim] Nordstrom kind of line. Now he's up with Krech. A little different situation for him and he's done a real good job. I've got a lot of respect for David. It wasn't easy."

Video: Backes heading to first Stanley Cup Final

Having played just 11 of Boston's 17 postseason games, Backes acknowledged that he is feeling as refreshed and rejuvenated as he has ever been during his 78-game Stanley Cup Playoffs career.

"I'm probably the healthiest I've been in a playoff. Limited minutes, trying to play physical out there," said Backes, who has averaged a team-low 9:46 of ice time during the playoffs. "I don't know that I'm as taxed as some of the other guys that are playing big minutes and have played in every game. Let those guys rest, we'll keep working and we'll all be ready for Game 1."

That Game 1 is still a week away and the Bruins' opponent is yet to be determined. But with the St. Louis Blues leading the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, in the Western Conference Final, there is a real possibility that Backes could be seeking his first Stanley Cup against his former team.

"Wishing St. Louis well, but once our opponent is picked those well wishes will be rescinded and it's on," said Backes, who was a second-round pick of the Blues in 2003. "We'll see who it is and we'll be prepared for it."

Backes played his first 10 seasons in St. Louis and was the team's captain from 2011-16, leading St. Louis to the postseason five times, including to the 2016 Western Conference Final in his final year with the team.

"I was looking at their team. There's maybe nine, maybe 10 guys that I played with if you count some of the younger guys, [Ivan] Barbashev or Sammy Blais that's come up that was property of St. Louis while I was there," said Backes. "I know their captain [Alex Pietrangelo] pretty well. He's a pretty good friend of mine.

"But we'll learn to hate each other over a seven-game series and rekindle our friendship after that if that's the case…wish them the best, but when that series starts it doesn't matter what emblem is on the other side, that Spoked-B is gonna be all we're thinking about."

Although, there's little doubt that Backes' teammates will also be thinking about getting his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

"It means something to everyone in here," said DeBrusk. "We're pushing for him. He's dealt with certain kinds of injuries and certain things and even being scratched through some of these playoffs as well. Just to see how emotional he was after the [Eastern Conference Final] was pretty cool…it was something that was special, especially for a young guy to see the big, strong DB getting a little emotional."

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