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David Backes set for emotional game

Bruins forward, who spent 10 seasons with Blues, will play former team for first time on Tuesday

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- It is still a whirlwind of chaos for David Backes. The doorbell still rings with furniture deliveries. The window blinds are still temporary. Nothing is settled and yet, everything is. His new home - purchased since his decision to sign with the Boston Bruins this summer - might continue to be in a state of flux, but he knows where it is: Boston, not St. Louis. Not any longer.

The last time Backes wore his old uniform, that of the St. Louis Blues, the tears were leaking, and he stood in a visiting locker room in San Jose, contemplating the end of everything he had worked to build for a decade. His team had just been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, following a loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. His future was undetermined.

By July 1, that future was far clearer: The unrestricted free agent would head to Boston to join the Bruins, on a five-year contract worth $30 million. His time in St. Louis was up.

On Tuesday, that uniform and his former teammates will be back in his line of sight, back in his life, and he'll prepare to play against the team he once captained for the first time in his career, when the Bruins take on the Blues at TD Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, NESN, FS-MW).

"I'm just hoping I shoot at the right goalie," Backes said. "You get those familiar colors…"

Video: BOS@CBJ: Backes records his first goal with Bruins

He has thought about this meeting -- "It's certainly crossed my mind," he said -- and about what it will feel like. He has thought about how he will handle it, about the fact that it is in Boston and not in St. Louis, about what his future could have been.

"It's an opportunity to play against a lot of good friends," Backes said. "I know probably everybody on that roster except one guy in a very close-knit way. It's going to be emotional, but I plan to just be in the moment and soak it all in and compete my butt off and try to help my team win the game, and let the rest be written as it may."

This game will prepare him, in some ways, for what's coming on Jan. 10, the date that has been in his mind for a long time. That's when he will return to St. Louis, to the Scottrade Center and the place where he, in effect, grew up. That will be more difficult.

Not only will he return to his old community on that night, but the team has reserved its "Barkin' for the Blues" charity event for the game against the Bruins, an initiative that's part of the non-profit started by David and his wife, Kelly, Athletes for Animals.

"It's a place where we spent 10 years of our lives, really grew as people, as a married couple, had our daughter there," Backes said. "It's still a special place in our hearts, but if we're rolling out of there with two points on that bus, that's the goal as well."

There will be friends there, friends who are "darn near family for us" on that night. There will be emotions, surrounding a team, a city, an organization that had given Backes an opportunity and a career and a place to thrive.

This game won't quite be that difficult. Backes will not have any trouble finding the correct locker room on Tuesday. There will be no location-based déjà vu.

So for now, Backes is going to try to roll with what happens, to let the reunion come naturally, to remember where he came from and where they came from and where their paths divided.

He poured so much into the Blues, into the organization and its quest for a Stanley Cup, including as the team's captain from Sept. 9, 2011 until last season ended. He had seen better things happen and better things ahead.

"We continued to make the playoffs every year and had some stumbles, learned some hard lessons," Backes said. "But we knew there was going to be that opportunity. I think we had that and didn't get the job done, but that's not to say that window was closed.

"They still have a really good team that you wonder maybe a couple more cracks, you get the job done, and you get to fulfill that ultimate dream that you've had with the organization, the only organization you'd known."

Video: BOS@CBJ: Backes redirects home his second goal

It is no longer the only organization he's known.

Backes, 32, looks different now than he did when he was last a member of the St. Louis Blues, the hair on top of his head shaggier, the chin now shaved, able to talk about that chapter in his life with more distance, less sentiment.

"That was a good hour worth of all the emotions and thoughts," Backes said. "We had put so much work in for so long of a time to beat Chicago in seven games, to beat Dallas in seven games, to be in the Conference Finals against a team that, in my heart, I felt if we played our game to the best of our ability we'd beat them and then see what happens in Stanley Cup Finals.

"Then you throw on top of it [that] I didn't have a contract for the next year. That might have been my last moment wearing that jersey that was really all I knew in the NHL and all that culmination, just looking at other guys' faces and knowing all the sacrifices that had been made, that we had made together, just kind of overwhelmed me."

It was a devastating night. And its aftermath was not easy. But Backes spent this summer coming to grips with the end of an era that he had hoped would continue, maybe as long as the end of his career.

He did have a good bye, though, a moment that came courtesy of his replacement as Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo. The defenseman was getting married in St. Louis the weekend that free agency opened, and Backes was a guest. After the groom's dinner on Thursday night, nothing much was planned for Friday, July 1, the day that Backes would make his new home - Boston - official.

But that evening, after the news had broken, a group attended the St. Louis Cardinals-Milwaukee Brewers game at Busch Stadium in the owner's suite. The Cardinals focused in on Backes, put his image on the JumboTron, and he watched as the crowd stood and applauded, as all he had worked for in St. Louis was recognized.

"I held it together, but it was emotional," Backes said. "I just left this place in free agency and they're giving me a standing ovation and appreciating the body of work that I did while I was in this town. That's a moment I'll never forget."

It was the final moment of a decade-long career in St. Louis, the start of five years in Boston. He had thought he would have more time there, more years to complete what he had set out to do, to win a Stanley Cup with the Blues. But now, instead of bringing one to that organization for the first time, he will try to bring one to the Bruins for the seventh.

And although the feelings between him and his former teammates are still strong, Backes knows exactly what he has to do on Tuesday: Keep it together, and shoot at the right goalie.

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