BOSTON - As he dropped to a knee and put his glove to his mouth, David Backes watched medical personnel tend to Ottawa Senators forward Scott Sabourin and feared the worst.
"I saw him down there with blood coming from his [face]…and he wasn't moving," said Backes. "I've seen guys knocked out quite a few times for 15-20 seconds and they start to get the twitches and wake up and wonder where they are…it's scary. But it seemed to me like he was out for minutes and I was really fearful that he was critically injured and needed significant help."
Backes had been on the other end of a violent first-period collision between the two players during the Bruins' matchup with the Senators on Nov. 2 at TD Garden. Sabourin barreled toward Backes and delivered a heavy shoulder-to-shoulder hit at the Boston blue line, the force of which knocked Sabourin out immediately and left him unprotected as his face smashed off the ice.
"It was heavy. We had the incident earlier with [Dallas Stars forward Roman] Polak being stretchered off [on Opening Night], that's tough to see anybody stretchered off the ice," said Backes. "You're all, in the end, a fraternity of guys that are playing this sport and loving this sport and nobody wants to see anybody injured."
Sabourin was down for over 10 minutes as the medical staffs of both teams loaded him on to a stretcher. Backes remained on the ice until Sabourin was transported from the arena with every player lining the boards to wish him well.
It was at that time that Backes retreated to the dressing room, needing to care for himself as he dealt with his own ramifications. The 35-year-old, who believes he's suffered roughly 10 concussions, was having trouble with his vision and experiencing other symptoms of a head injury.
The aftermath of the hit resulted in Backes missing the last 13 games with an upper-body injury and pushed him to take a step back and undergo a full review of his health. Now, some four weeks after the collision, Backes appears to be on the verge of a return to game action.
"Just [been] going through the process of what the doctors are telling me and trying to get back as soon as possible," said Backes, who practiced in full for the first time on Saturday morning at Warrior Ice Arena. "Some of that comes quicker. Some of it's been fits and starts. But feeling really great as of maybe 10 days ago and been a full go, off the ice training, on the ice training, and feeling more like myself. Couldn't be happier to be a full go and hopefully playing contact hockey against a different team in short order."
Video: Backes talks with media following Saturday's practice
Backes believes he could be ready to play as early as Sunday night against the Montreal Canadiens, but understands the decision will ultimately lie with Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, who termed Backes as "very close" to a return following Saturday's practice.
"The team was extremely supportive, and I've been given a clean bill of health," said Backes. "You know my history as far as if I'm playing when I'm at full health or not. I'm hopefully going to be available as soon as [Sunday] and then it would be up to the powers that be whether 42 can slot into the game to help us win another one."
The Minnesota native resumed on-ice activities with skating and skills coach Kim Brandvold last week after receiving some positive - and what he describes as better-than-expected - news from multiple doctors, including an independent, out-of-state neurologist who assured Backes that he should not be concerned about his health upon his return to the ice.
"Multiple neurologists have told me there's no reason for me to be hesitant, to worry about more contact, more hits because you're doing fine," said Backes, who did not divulge the extent of his injury, other than to say there were "certainly some concussion-like symptoms" following the hit.
"From that, I'm excited to be back with a clean mind, not thinking that my next hit could be something that ends my career. That's something that's been on my mind and to not have that, I'm hoping to be freer and able to play a freer game out there."
Given his concussion history, as well as the image of Sabourin fresh in his mind, Backes acknowledged the difficulty he had processing the incident. Backes reached out to Sabourin and stayed in touch with the Senators rookie - who suffered a fractured nose - in the aftermath of the hit and said he continues to pray for his full recovery.
"If that's my wife and my parents, and my kids seeing that - I didn't know Scott from anybody in the world really before that incident, but he's got a fiancée, found out his parents were watching, hometown Ottawa kid," said Backes. "That's got to be extremely scary for all those people. At the same time, [I'm] worried about my own health with a long history of hits like that."
It was for those reasons, that Backes opted to take a step back and engage in a thorough review of his neurological well-being by doctors that specialize in hockey-related head injuries.
"Having full workups done by them, [asking], 'Am I'm damaged and broken? Is there a point I should stop playing this game, or can you tell me that I'm healthy and that my brain's healthy?' The short term and returning to play is certainly a decision to be made, but I've got kids and I'm hopefully gonna live another 50 years after I'm done playing. That's a concern as well.
"I'm a human, so those are thoughts and questions that I wanted answers [to] before I put my skates back on and I put myself back into these games. I got all those answered with, truthfully, better answers than I thought I was gonna get with the history that I have."
Wait, There's More
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Brett Ritchie all missed practice on Saturday morning, and it appears that Marchand is the only one with the potential to play on Sunday against Montreal. Marchand has been battling flu-like symptoms, putting his status in question.
"Marchy showed up was the rink [on Friday] with the flu, left with the flu, woke up with the flu," said Cassidy. "If he wakes up [Sunday morning] able to play with the flu symptoms, he'll play. If not, he won't."
Bergeron, meanwhile, remains day to day with a lower-body injury. He has missed five of the last seven contests.
"He reported in today for treatment and didn't skate," said Cassidy. "Until he skates, we'll rule him out. He won't play tomorrow. Keep pushing it down the line until he gets back out there."
Tuukka Rask will start in goal against the Canadiens.
Video: Cassidy talks about Studnicka, team's performance