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Bruins Turn Their Attention to St. Louis

Backes, teammates get to work on Stanley Cup Final opponent

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - David Backes spent the first 10 years of his National Hockey League career in St. Louis, the final five as the team's captain. Along the way, he made friendships that will last a lifetime - minus the next three weeks.

The Blues clinched their spot in the Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday night with a 5-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks and will take on the Bruins - and Backes - for the ultimate prize beginning on Memorial Day.

Thus, the pleasantries and well wishes that have become commonplace will be put on hold.

"It would have been fine to make the Finals in different years and then we could have each had a shot at it maybe," said Backes, who is set to play in the Cup Final for the first time in his 13-year NHL career. "But now it's all about this room. There's still some good friends on that team. One of my best friends [Alex Pietrangelo], he's the captain of that team.

"I told him I love him now, I'm gonna love him afterwards, but I'm gonna hate him for the next three weeks. I think that's a mutual decision. We're gonna battle our butts off for this ultimate prize.

"We'll patch up whatever needs to be patched up afterwards, but it's all about what's in this room, what our goal is, what we need to do to win these games."

Video: Backes set to face former team in Cup Final

Backes signed with the Bruins during the summer of 2017, just a few weeks after the Blues had been eliminated by the Sharks in the Western Conference Final. Now, with St. Louis back in the Cup Final for the first time since 1970 (which the Bruins won in four games), the 35-year-old will be on the other side.

"It's an odd storyline in my mind," said Backes, whose phone has been flooded with messages since the Blues victory. "My first opportunity in Year 13 in the league is their next opportunity after the 70s. The stars have aligned for it to be one heck of an event.

"We're just gonna embrace it and throw what we have out there on every shift, every moment of every game. I love this group. I wouldn't want to be in the Finals with any other group. I believe in this group."

As such, Backes will be doing everything he can to help Boston capture its second Stanley Cup in the last nine seasons. In addition to his on-ice duties, the B's alternate captain is prepared to provide any bit of intel that could be beneficial.

"There's 10 guys that I think were there when I was there. It's half the team, that's a lot of familiarity, but it's not like I left there at the trade deadline and know every guy like the back of my hand," said Backes. "Obviously if I come up with some information that I think can help us I'll disseminate it, but I don't know that I've got the secret sauce."

Regardless of any inside info, it won't be easy to tame the Blues, who have been the hottest team in hockey since the New Year. St. Louis went 30-10-5 over the final 45 games over the regular season to surge from last in the NHL to a tie for 10th.

"I think it's been a great story," said Backes, who noted that the Bruins and Blues are alike in makeup and style of play. "They've done a heck of a job turning that around. You look at what the difference has been, it seems to be one player, the goaltender [Jordan Binnington], that steps in and he's been all world and making huge saves for them.

"When you have that confidence in your goalie, just like we do, you're able to make plays in front of him. That's kind of why I'm saying we're very similar."

But in the end, only one can hoist the Stanley Cup.

"They've got a heck of a team, we've got a heck of a team," said Backes. "It's gonna be heightened emotions. It's a binary decision now, it's us or them. There's no third party, ties, none of that stuff. One of us is gonna win the Cup, the St. Louis Blues or the Boston Bruins.

"That's a position you want to be in at the beginning of the year, we're in that position. Wish those guys well up until this point, but now it's all about us and winning this thing and all our thoughts and all our efforts are in this room."

Video: Coyle talks challenges of facing Blues

Book on Binnington

As Backes noted, perhaps the biggest reason for the Blues' turnaround was the arrival of Binnington between the pipes. The rookie netminder took over the full-time job on Jan. 7, just days after St. Louis began its charge up the league standings.

Binnington posted a remarkable 24-5-1 record with a .927 save percentage and 1.89 goals against average in 32 games with the Blues - numbers that weren't far off from his stint in Providence last season.

That's right, Binnington played 28 games with the P-Bruins in 2017-18, while on loan from St. Louis. With the Blues without an AHL team after an affiliation change, they needed somewhere for their goalie prospect to play and reached a deal with the Bruins.

The 25-year-old shared time with Zane McIntyre and went 17-9-0 record with a .926 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average.

"I'm not much of a scout, but he's a great kid," said Connor Clifton, who was a teammate of Binnington's in Providence last season. "Obviously he's been an awesome goalie, he's showing it this year. Probably been a crazy ride this year.

"He's an aggressive goalie, he's gonna make a lot of first saves. He's also athletic and just a great kid, like I said. I don't know how to beat him. When we do our goalie report soon, hopefully we learn how."

That goalie report will come from goaltending coach Bob Essensa, who along with goaltending development coach Mike Dunham, worked with Binnington during his time in Providence.

"I'd like to think it will help. Goalie Bob knows him. He was down in Providence, so there's a little extra there," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy."I don't think it will affect Binnington much. He's playing well. I'm sure he's gonna be on his game, play the way he plays, even though there might be a little more inside information that we would have, than maybe San Jose did.

"At the end of the day, it can't hurt right to have a little experience on him, little details. Bob's done a good job evaluating goalies for us, so I'm sure he'll get us dialed into without the guys overthinking. Hopefully we can expose him."

Video: Cassidy preparing for tough foe in St. Louis

Looking Back

Despite growing up in Ottawa, Cassidy has been a lifelong diehard of the Black & Gold. Thus, the 54-year-old remembers well the last time the Bruins and Blues met in the Stanley Cup Final, which ended with Bobby Orr flying through the air in Game 4 to clinch Boston's 1970 title.

Cassidy had the famous photo - as well as another well-known poster from the era - tacked to his bedroom wall.

"I used to deliver the Ottawa Citizen as a kid," said Cassidy. "I cut it out, it was on my wall…I had the hockey card too, it was the one that had all the trophies behind him. That was what was on my wall. And maybe a Farrah Fawcett photo…maybe."

Video: Pastrnak looking forward to first Finals

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