If the St. Louis Blues
make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it won't be on the back of one player. For one night, however, there wasn't a more important player on the roster than David Backes
Backes scored four goals Thursday night as the Blues continued their push for a playoff berth with a 5-4 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. The fourth goal, which gave Backes 30 for the season, came with 4:07 remaining -- and just 36 seconds after Niklas Kronwall had tied the score for the Wings.
"To tell you the truth, I can't remember the last time I scored four goals. I think I had a good practice in training camp two years ago and maybe got four then," said Backes, who had scored 23 goals in 121 career games prior to this season. Now he's tied with Brad Boyes for the team lead.
Andy MacDonald also scored and Chris Mason stopped 34 shots for St. Louis, which jumped from ninth into eighth in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Nashville, which has played one fewer game. The Blues, who have 85 points, once made the playoffs in 25 straight seasons, but haven't been back since that streak ended when they finished last overall in 2005-06.
"Every win we've had has helped us accumulate the point total we've got right now, so they're all special," coach Andy Murray said. "Obviously after the way we played last night in Chicago (a 3-1 loss that ended a five-game winning streak), we really needed to have a game like this tonight.
"I liked our game right from the get-go tonight. I thought we had legs. We were on the forecheck. I think we had seven shots about the first five or six minutes. We were prepared to put the puck in the net tonight, which we weren't doing last night, and just a lot of resolve in this team."
Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Johan Franzen had the other goals for Detroit, which rallied from 2-0 and 4-2 deficits only to drop its third in a row, all at home. The Wings have lost four of five overall and fell six points behind San Jose for the West lead following the Sharks' win in Edmonton.
"We need a better job defensively, we need a better job in net, and obviously right now our goal-scoring can't keep up with our defense," coach Mike Babcock said.
Backes became the third player to score four goals in a game this season and the first St. Louis player to get four in a game since Scott Mellanby did it in a 6-3 win over Phoenix on March 6, 2003. Backes had never even scored three in an NHL game prior to Thursday and didn't have a game-winner goal to his credit this season.
That changed after Boyes set him up for a one-timer from the bottom of the left circle that eluded Ty Conklin for the tie-breaker and Mason held off the Wings in the final minutes. The Blues bounced back quickly after losing to the Blackhawks, an effort that saw them outshot 30-17 and outplayed from the opening faceoff to the final horn.
"We didn't do what we wanted in Chicago," Backes said. "They really took the game to us for a full 60 minutes. Everyone thought they were the worst player on the ice for our team. To come out tonight and play a full 60 like we did -- a little adversity, fighting back every time they came back -- it was a great team win."
Backes actually answered game-tying goals by the Wings twice during a back-and-forth third period that began with the Blues holding a 2-1 lead. Lidstrom struck on the power play at 1:13 with a slap shot from the point, but Backes completed his first career hat trick 24 seconds later, beating Conklin from the slot after the goalie got mixed up with defenseman Jonathan Ericsson behind the net.
MacDonald made it 4-2 at 2:53 on a goal that possibly could have been credited to Backes, who set up a screen in front as MacDonald redirected a point shot by T.J. Oshie for a power-play goal. Had there been a double deflection, Backes would have had five for the night.
"We win as a team. If they give it to him (McDonald), that's great," Backes said. "He's the one who touched it. I just set the screen."
Franzen came right back at 3:52 and brought Detroit within 4-3 by making a great move around defenseman Mike Weaver in the slot before beating Mason as he went down to the ice. Kronwall scored on a shot from the point with 4:43 left in regulation, but before the Wings had any chance to build off that they were trailing once again.
"We got back in the game a couple times and we felt that we had the momentum going," Kronwall said. "Of course it's pretty frustrating when that happens, but at the same time you've just got to get back on that horse and keep grinding, keep grinding. It felt like we stuck with it, but came up short tonight."
Following a scoreless first in which St. Louis held a 12-5 shots advantage, both teams got on the board in the second and the Blues completed 40 minutes with an edge despite being outshot 19-13 in the middle period.
Backes staked them to the lead by scoring twice in a 3:24 span. He slammed home a one-timer off a Brad Winchester feed from behind the net at 6:02, then put in a rebound off the end boards at 9:26.
"For us, we get to see what he does every night," MacDonald said of Backes. "He's played extremely well for us this year. He's a physical guy, goes to the net, he's got a pretty good shot. He stepped up in one of the biggest games of the year, so it was a good outing for him."
Datsyuk got Detroit on the board with 5:17 to play in the second, tipping in Lidstrom's drive from the point.
The Wings have already clinched the Central Division and can't finish any lower than second in the conference, but that's little comfort as they continue to chase the 50th win that would make them only the third franchise to ever reach that number in four consecutive seasons. More important is that they're trying to play better hockey in gearing up for their defense of the Stanley Cup.
"We want to get out of this slump. We want to play better," Lidstrom said. "And we know we have to play better to have any success in the playoffs. So we have to find a way to get out of this slump."
Babcock said the turnaround will start soon.
"We have a trend going here that we have to fix," he said. "I'm disappointed in the job I'm getting done here. I'm disappointed in the group right now. This is very un-Red Wing-like and it's not good enough. We're turning it around next game."
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report