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David Backes steps in as top center for Bruins

Free agent acquisition replaces injured Patrice Bergeron against Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

BRUINS (0-0-0) at BLUE JACKETS (0-0-0)

7 p.m. ET; FS-O, NESN, NHL.TV

COLUMBUS -- The free agent signing of forward David Backes on July 1 becomes even more important for the Boston Bruins with forward Patrice Bergeron unable to play the season opener at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday because of a lower-body injury.

Backes, 32, provides a veteran's perspective and guile to a lineup expected to have four players making their NHL debuts. He spent the previous 10 seasons with the St. Louis Blues but finds himself centering the top line between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in Bergeron's absence.

"They've made it very comfortable for me," Backes said. "The guys have welcomed me in. The systems are very similar to what I played in St. Louis for 10 years. It's one of those things where the mentality of the team is the guys rally around team first. It's a great fit for me. We had some success in preseason but we need to establish that every night."

Bergeron led the Bruins with 68 points last season, including 32 goals. Coach Claude Julien said Bergeron is day to day and gave no indication if he will be available Saturday at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Backes had been playing right wing on the second line with center David Krejci and Ryan Spooner but that role will be filled by rookie Danton Heinen. It's been quite a jump for Heinen, who played the past two seasons at the University of Denver and had been on the Bruins' fourth line during much of the preseason.

"I'm super excited," Heinen said. "It' something you've been dreaming my whole life to be playing in an NHL game. There's two great players I'm playing with; just get them the puck and play hard." 

The other Bruins making their NHL debuts are forward Austin Czarnik and defensemen Brandon Carlo and Rob O'Gara because of injuries to defensemen Kevan Miller (hand) and Adam McQuaid (upper body).

The Blue Jackets will also have four rookies in the lineup with Zach Werenski and Markus Nutivaara playing their first NHL games.

"There's going to be mistakes," coach John Tortorella said. "I coached myself this summer where I need to, with some of the skill we brought in and some of the kids we brought in, I need to sometimes turn away and live with that. A good player turns into a great player if he goes right back and makes a play on the one he screwed up on."

The other rookies are forward Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had four goals and four assists in 12 games with Columbus last season, and forward Josh Anderson, who had a goal and four points in 12 games. 


Bruins projected lineup

Brad Marchand -- David Backes -- David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner -- David Krejci -- Danton Heinen

Matt Beleskey -- Austin Czarnik -- Jimmy Hayes

Dominic Moore -- Riley Nash -- Noel Acciari  

Zdeno Chara-- Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug -- Rob O'Gara

John-Michael Liles -- Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask

Anton Khudobin

Scratched: Joe Morrow, Tim Schaller

Injuried: Patrice Bergeron (lower body), Adam McQuaid (upper body), Kevan Miller (knee), Frank Vatrano (foot)


Blue Jackets projected lineup

Boone Jenner -- Brandon Dubinsky -- Cam Atkinson

Brandon Saad -- Sam Gagner -- Nick Foligno

Scott Hartnell -- Alexander Wennberg -- Oliver Bjorkstrand

Matt Calvert -- William Karlsson -- Josh Anderson

Zach Werenski -- Seth Jones

Ryan Murray -- David Savard

Jack Johnson -- Markus Nutivaara 

Sergei Bobrovsky

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Dalton Prout, Lukas Sedlak, Scott Harrington

Injured: Cody Goloubef (oblique), Joonas Korpisalo (groin), David Clarkson (back)


Status report

Wennberg will play after being sent to Cleveland of the American Hockey League on Tuesday and recalled Wednesday in a paper move because of salary-cap issues. … Schaller was recalled from Providence of the AHL on Wednesday but will be a healthy scratch.


Who's hot

Backes had six assists in three preseason games. … Gagner's five preseason points led all Blue Jackets skaters. … Bjorkstrand had three goals and an assist in six games. … The Bruins are 3-1-0 in their past four season openers.

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