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Backes accepts role change, helps Bruins reach Stanley Cup Final

Veteran forward looking to win first championship has five points in 11 playoff games

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

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The smile from David Backes was a bit wider, the hugs he delivered a bit harder after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final ended.

In the moments after the Boston Bruins clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-0 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Thursday, Backes looked to share his happiness with as many people as possible. 

The 35-year-old forward admitted his emotions were all over the place in those surreal moments between the handshake line and the wait for the Bruins to pose with the Prince of Wales Trophy.

"A ton of gratitude for all the work that has gone in, a lot of love for my teammates and the guys that have put the work in," Backes said of his thoughts then. "It's just an awesome group. You saw it afterward, the hugs were never-ending. 

"You love the group and you love to go to battle for them and do whatever you can to sacrifice for each other to win."

Video: Backes describes feeling of playing for Stanley Cup

Backes wasn't sure he would ever get to experience a moment of this magnitude. It had eluded him for the first 12 seasons of his NHL career, 10 of which were played with the St. Louis Blues, one of Boston's potential opponents in the Cup Final.

His last opportunity came with the Blues in the 2016 Western Conference Final. The Blues lost to the San Jose Sharks in six games and after being eliminated, Backes was rocked to his core, fighting back tears as he discussed the disappointment.

"You don't know when you are going to get these opportunities," Backes said Thursday. "It's something that we have stressed to the youngers guys: You are pretty darned fortunate to be in a Stanley Cup Final. Some guys play their whole career and never get this opportunity. We're trying to let them know how important this moment is."

Backes signed with Boston less than a month after that heartbreaking loss with St. Louis, leaving behind the only team he had known in the NHL and relinquishing his captaincy. 

He moved, in part, because he believed the Bruins were on the cusp of a championship.

He says he saw the core remaining in place from the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks and went to the Final two years later, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. He believed Tuukka Rask was a Cup-caliber goalie and he marveled at the leadership and culture the Bruins had developed.

But, in his first season, the Bruins lost to the Ottawa Senators in the first round. Last season, it was a second-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This season, as whispers circulated that the game was passing him by, Backes wondered what the future held for him and the Bruins.

They made the postseason, but he was losing his grip on a regular roster spot. His seven goals and 20 points in 70 regular-season games were each the fewest of his NHL career. 

Backes was scratched for the final two games of the first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the first three games of the second-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Backes was standing still, an extra, excess to coach Bruce Cassidy's needs.

"When you're out, it's kind of like a psychology experiment; what are you going to do with your brain?" Backes said. "Are you going to let it go wild and have a pity party for yourself or are you going prepare for the next opportunity and capitalize on it when it comes and make it tough for them to take you back out of the lineup? I think I have chosen the latter and made an impact."

Since returning to the lineup in Game 4 of the second round, Backes has two goals and two assists in seven games. He has been a net-front menace and a wrecking ball on the forecheck. The Bruins are 7-0 since he returned to lineup. 

Video: CAR@BOS, Gm2: Backes slips home loose puck

"He's done what he did typically for us late in the year," Cassidy said. "He went in, played a lesser role but played it well; High energy, physical. He's found what he can give us every night for whether it's 10-14 minutes, somewhere in there.

"I'm happy for him. He's paid his dues in this League for a long time and he gets to go to his first Stanley Cup Final."

The way Backes handled his personal disappointment this season wasn't missed by his teammates. 

When Backes was fighting back tears three years ago when his season ended one step short of the Final, he talked about teammate Steve Ott trying to help an ill Backes get healthy so Backes could play in Game 6. If Backes couldn't go, Ott would have played. Backes called it a selfless gesture by his teammate.

Now, he was doing the same, talking up the players in the lineup, making sure he was making contributions off the ice, overseeing his part in the chemistry experiment that is an NHL dressing room.

"It's awesome to see the passion and emotion that he had on his face after this game," forward Brad Marchand said. "He's been such a huge part of our group. He's such a great leader and we build so much emotion off the way that he plays. He's just such a phenomenal guy, such a great teammate and he's had an incredible career. 

"When you play in this league for a long time you start to appreciate and understand how hard it is to win and how few opportunities you get to really win that Cup. We have an opportunity to play for it here this year and you could just see how excited he was. It was awesome to see."

Backes knows that he will become a storyline during the next two weeks, especially if the Blues advance to the Final. 

The Sharks lead the best-of-7 Western Conference Final 2-1 against the Blues. Game 4 is at Enterprise Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS). 

But he insists it is not about the Bruins winning a Cup for Backes. It will be about more than him if they can somehow win four more games.

"We will win it for each other," he said. "That's now a reality that we have one team to beat to win that thing. It wouldn't be terrible."

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