By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins forward David Backes hasn’t received kudos from the medical staff yet for returning from colon surgery in near record time last week.
“I think they don’t want to jinx anything quite yet,” Backes said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday.
Backes was supposed to be out eight weeks, but missed just four. Although his doctors aren’t doing a touchdown dance, surprisingly, Backes has drawn positive attention from an unlikely source.
“Honestly I’ve had more guys reach out from the league that weren’t so friendly, or aren’t so friendly, on the ice that have asked me how I’m doing,” Backes revealed to me. “And that’s meant a lot to me that they’re caring about me as a person and we can still beat the crap out of each other on the ice.”
Backes has played three strong games since returning from surgery to help combat the effects of diverticulitis but his teammates don’t have to send him texts or emails to show their concern or their appreciation for him. If he’ll let them get a word in, they can thank him directly. And he’s earned their gratitude with a few warrior-like performances, especially in light of what he’s been through this season.
Backes played 18:58 rugged minutes, including a diving backcheck to prevent a Brayden Point breakaway, in the 3-2 upset of Tampa Bay last Wednesday. The Bruins’ 3-0 win at Philadelphia on Saturday allowed coach Bruce Cassidy to rest the forward and play Backes just 13:46. But in Nashville on Monday, with the Bruins nearly overcoming a four-goal deficit before falling 5-3, Backes played a season-high 19:20.
Backes said he felt fine and the day off on Tuesday helped, even if two-year-old Stella woke him up at the usual time despite the Bruins arriving home extremely late from the Music City on Monday. So far there haven’t been any aftershocks from returning so quickly after surgery. But the Bruins have felt the impact, in terms of his play and his leadership, since he returned.
Although he can’t take all the credit, it’s no coincidence that the Bruins hung on and beat the Lightning despite nearly squandering a three-goal lead. And again you could see the Bruins, buoyed by Backes, not letting up after they dug in a 4-0 hole against the Predators.
Cassidy lamented often during the early part of this season that the Bruins missed Backes’ calming and inspiring voice when he was out of the lineup. Now they’re reaping the benefits.
“What I do notice is David Backes in that area, great to have him back,” Cassidy said. “He’s good at saying the right thing at the right time on the bench. It’s easier for me because I could be vocal if there’s no one around me being vocal and sometimes that’s not always a good thing.”
The rest of the Bruins notice the noisier nature of their bench when Backes is in uniform, and they feed off that chatter.
“I think you saw it in St. Louis, he’s an awesome leader. I know guys in this room obviously look up to him quite a bit,” linemate Riley Nash said. “He’s just one of those guys that has a presence about him when he’s on the ice, off the ice. Just whenever he’s around in a room, he commands respect. He’s not shy either, he’s a vocal guy, so … I think he just brings comfort level to the team and to the group.”
Backes said he’s always been a fast healer because of how much he hates to sit around after a debilitating injury. He got some luck this time around because there wasn’t much scar tissue to clear up after the surgery, a credit to his surgeon, who then kept in touch with Backes daily and allowed the player to increase the intensity of his workouts as long as he was feeling able.
As his timing returns and he creates more chemistry with Nash and linemate Danton Heinen, Backes should be able to contribute more than gritty plays and vocal encouragement to the Bruins’ cause. And those well wishes from opponents will definitely stop arriving.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.