COLUMBUS, Ohio - David Backes is hoping for a belated birthday present on Thursday night.
The winger, who turned 35 on Wednesday, practiced on the Bruins' second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk during an early afternoon session at Nationwide Arena and could draw back into the lineup for Boston's crucial Game 4 with the Blue Jackets.
"That's the hope," said Backes, who has not played since Game 5 of the first round against Toronto. "Playing alongside Krech and JD this morning, I don't know if that's the way it'll shake out…but good to be on a line and expecting to be playing and trying to help these guys and our team win a Game 4 to even the series up."
With the Bruins struggling to create enough traffic in front of the wall that has been Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky thus far in the series, coach Bruce Cassidy believes that Backes' net-front presence can help Boston generate more chances around the crease. If Backes plays, Karson Kuhlman would likely be the odd-man out.
"I think that's the formula for us, get some traffic in there without bumping him," said Cassidy. "[Backes] will bring that. After that, he's just a good solid player. Kuhlman's been good for us, helped offensively [Tuesday] night, made a nice play on [DeBrusk's] goal, good slot look.
"It's just two different animals…one is a little heavier type of mentality, the other is a little quicker. We'll decide [on Thursday] what is the best avenue and go from there."
Video: Backes talks about possible return to lineup
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Backes' large frame would no doubt be a difficult obstacle for Bobrovsky to maneuver while trying to track pucks around the crease.
"From my point of view, if he's seeing it, he's stopping it," Backes said of Bobrovsky. "He's over quick on lateral plays, he's doing a heck of a job to keep them in games and to give them chances to win. It's been three one-goal games, so the margins are very small.
"If we can take his eyes away, find a couple loose pucks in front of the net - it's kind of what I've done my whole career - that would be great and give us a better chance to win…it's no secret how you score this time of year and I want to be a part of that."
Backes also thrives on the rugged, grind-it-out type of hockey that the Bruins and Blue Jackets have displayed through three games.
"You relish that sort of being in the trenches with your guys," said Backes. "Especially after a long year of being in those trenches and going through those ups and downs and saying, 'Lets lock arms and get through this however we need to and I'm willing to do whatever I need to do, sacrifice whatever I need to sacrifice so we can have success.'
"I'm going to relish it and do whatever the heck I can to give us an advantage or a little bit of edge to try to get this thing back even and go home for a Game 5."
Causing A Stir
Brad Marchand once again found himself embroiled in a media circus following Game 3 after a jab to the back of Columbus defenseman Scott Harrington's head during a scrum late in the third period. Marchand, who was not expected to receive any supplemental discipline from the NHL's Department of Player Safety, said that the play was "unnecessary" but a response to previous whacks against Jake DeBrusk by the Blue Jackets.
"JD was taking a few punches in front of the net from a couple guys, so it was just kind of a reaction to that," said Marchand. "I guess [I regret it] because of having to talk about it today. It's probably not something I'd go back and do it again, but stuff like this happens in hockey.
"And if you watch the play there, Jake took about six punches there from two guys, so it is what it is."
Marchand, who has had his share of run-ins with the league office, said he was not paying attention to the negative reaction surrounding him on social media.
"There's a lot of media attention in the playoffs, and they jump onto things and hold onto it, and it creates a stir," said Marchand. "It is what it is. I'm not overly concerned about what's said in the media and what fans say and stuff like that. It was an unnecessary play, but it is what it is. Games go on, and we're about the next one."
Cassidy said that, as always, it is crucial for Marchand to stay on the right side of the line when it come to balancing his skill and agitation.
"We need him on the ice," said Cassidy. "The way the series has gone, the power play's been crucial both ways, so we've got to make sure that he plays hard between the whistles and that will be the message…we've been dealing with this for a long time, this isn't me just going up to Marchy and saying, 'Knock it off.' It doesn't work that way.
"He's got to find it in himself to make sure and use his teammates around him to help him. Generally, if he starts having some level of success that stuff goes away."
Video: Marchand discusses physicality of series
With the Bruins' power play clicking at a 10% percent clip (1 for 10) through three games of the second round, Cassidy is returning to the unit that helped his team boast one of the best power plays in the NHL this season. DeBrusk shifted back to the net front on the top unit, with Marcus Johansson sliding to the second group. Cassidy hopes the tweaks can help both units get back on track.
"We like both him and Marcus," said Cassidy. "I think Marcus makes more plays from the goal line, in terms of little seam passes, touch plays into the bumper. Jake's more of puck recovery, screen guy that can certainly score…he'll stay there a little more in front of the goaltender.
"I think we're lacking a little bit of that on our power play…we like that part of his game on it. He's good at puck retrievals on entries. JoJo is more the puck carrier on entries. He's better at that, so there's a little give and take there if we make that switch.
"We're comfortable with both. I think they've both done a good job. Just the whole unit as a group hasn't done a good enough job in this series."
Video: Cassidy speaks to media in Columbus
Wednesday's Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - David Backes
Marcus Johansson - Charlie Coyle - Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom - Sean Kuraly - Noel Acciari
Karson Kuhlman/Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Connor Clifton
Steven Kampfer - John Moore