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playoffs

Backes leads Blues closer to Cup Final

After plenty of heartbreak, captain has St. Louis four wins away entering series against San Jose

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

ST. LOUIS -- The beard is a bit thicker and the eyes are slightly more hollow than St. Louis captain David Backes has experienced in the past.

But he'll take the harsher look for what it represents: a place for him and his Blues among the four teams left with a chance to win the Stanley Cup as the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks begins with Game 1 at Scottrade Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"One of these four teams is going to win the Cup and we're thinking in this room, 'Why not us?'" Backes said Friday. "We're going to go out there and put the work in to do everything we can to take care of what we can control."

Backes will lead the Blues in that quest. With his north-south, go-to-the-net, rattle-the-boards game, he is seemingly built for the playoffs. But until now, the Blues had not gotten past the second round since he came to St. Louis during the 2006-07 season.

During his decade of frustration, Backes has seen it all. He joined the Blues in the midst of a rebuild. He learned from some of the best players in the game before becoming captain in 2011. He was the leader, and the target of criticism, when the Blues were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs each of the past three seasons.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Backes pads the lead with great shot

Those failures have been hard for the Blues. They have been excruciating for Backes.

"We've had some really good seasons and some disappointments in the playoffs," forward Ryan Reaves said. "That has to weigh heavily on everybody, but it has to weigh heavy on the leader of your team the most. It's obviously not your fault, but when you are the leader you bear a little bit of a heavier load when something goes wrong.

"You can tell that he has really taken it upon himself to make sure we play the right way."

Those lessons were often painful, but they were necessary for Backes to evolve into the player, and leader, he has been this postseason. They also were necessary for the Blues to evolve into a championship-caliber team.

"All of that seemingly has come to a place now where it's making it all worth those struggles and those lessons that we've had to learn the hard way, to now be able to get a chance to do what we've set out to do for the last 10 years," Backes said. "All the meetings, all the time and struggles we've had have led us to this point to where now we've got eight wins to win a Cup.

"But we've got to take them one at a time."

The focus on the next step is perhaps the biggest change in Backes, teammates say. He no longer worries about what he can't control.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm3: Backes nets two in Game 3 win for Blues

"He's a guy that is able to keep things at an even keel throughout the year," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "That's what makes him a good leader, the ups and downs don't seem to affect him. His ups and downs of his personal game don't seem to affect him.

"He's a real good guy to have in the locker room because guys like him and [Alexander Steen] and [Troy Brouwer], those guys all keep it even-keel. Especially at this time of year. You go into seven games and you're going to need that and have the same mindset every game."

Backes' influence in the locker room is undeniable, but he has also made a huge impact on the ice in these playoffs: He ranks second on the Blues with six goals, is third with 12 points, and is tied for the lead with 57 hits.

"He's the epitome of a playoff player," Reaves said, "and the guy you want leading your team in the playoffs."

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