By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When it comes to shootouts, David Backes generally isn’t considered a top-three pick. Or a top-five. Or a top-10. He’s really not much of a consideration at all, and the veteran forward would admit as much himself.
Yet, with a six-game win streak at stake, and the chance to make it seven, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy gave a tap of the shoulder to Backes late Wednesday night in Las Vegas. It was Backes’ first shootout attempt of the season, and it was just his second shootout attempt since joining the Bruins three seasons ago. In his entire 13-year career, he had only taken seven shootout attempts. He had scored just once.
So in the sixth round of the shootout, where each team had scored just once, Backes got the call. And because everything is going the Bruins’ way these days, he of course beat Marc-Andre Fleury for the game-winner.
Just like that, it was a lucky seven in a row for the Boston Bruins.
“I think the element of surprise [from] Butchie to me probably helped me not think about it at all and just go out there and do what I do and shoot the puck,” Backes matter-of-factly explained in the winning dressing room following the B’s 3-2 win.
“I loved it,” Cassidy said with a laugh. “I thought it was a great call.”
Joking aside, there was a method to Cassidy’s madness. The coach said he liked the idea of giving shooters a chance against Fleury, considering the netminder being “pretty active” on dekes.
“He’s a shooter,” Cassidy said of Backes. “We talked about, he’s pretty active, Fleury on the dekes. So we decided to go with a couple of shooters, and it paid off.”
With the win, the Bruins have now won seven straight games. Three of those wins have come in overtime, plus this win in Vegas coming via shootout. The past four wins all came on the road, all in the Pacific time zone.
Going further, the Bruins haven’t lost in regulation since Jan. 19. In the past 12 games, they’ve earned 21 of a possible 24 points.
As a result, the Bruins now own the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and the third-best record in all of the NHL, behind only the Lightning and Flames. Granted, with 80 points, they’re still a ways behind first-place Tampa, which has 96 points. But the fact that Bruins have been able to maintain this winning streak after losing top scorer David Pastrnak to a freak injury has been a fairly remarkable feat.
EASTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS
1. Tampa Bay, 46-11-4, 96 points, 42 ROW
2. Boston, 36-17-8, 80 points, 34 ROW
3. Toronto, 36-19-4, 76 points, 36 ROW
4. NY Islanders, 35-18-6, 76 points, 32 ROW
5. Washington, 33-20-7, 73 points, 30 ROW
And from the head coach on down to the players, seemingly everyone agrees that an added focus of picking up points to set up for this stretch run has led to results.
“It’s lots of team building right now, and guys are feeling good about themselves,” said Jake DeBrusk, who scored one of the two Bruins goals during regulation and also scored in the shootout. “I think it just shows our resiliency, missing Pasta, and certain guys are put in different roles and we just try to do the best we can.”
“Finding ways to win, this time of the year, it’s big,” said Brad Marchand, who scored the other Boston goal during regulation. “When your top scorer goes down, you never know how guys are gonna respond. But I think guys have embraced it and are excited about the opportunity and making some big plays at the right time. Obviously tonight, Jaro [Halak] was awesome, and we got a big [penalty] kill there late in overtime. We’re having different heroes every night. Backes did a great job to finish that off and cap off a big night. And then the killers were, again, we don’t get to that point without that big kill. So that’s what we need.”
“Got two points,” said David Krejci, who assisted on DeBrusk’s goal and who now has 10 points in the last five games. “No matter how we get it, at this time of year, any way you can find a way to win, it makes the team stronger.”
“When Pastrnak went out, our guys knew we had to pick up the slack. And Jake DeBrusk has been probably the leader in that area. He’s been real good offensively,” Cassidy said. “But I think in general, our team knows that this time of year, you’ve gotta play together, play the right way, and I think that’s a credit to the leadership. And that’s why we’ve won games. It’s not just one thing; it’s just a combination of just playing solid hockey.”
The Bruins will close out their five-game road trip on Saturday afternoon in St. Louis, looking to extend their winning streak to eight games. It’s almost impossible to imagine they’d ever catch up to the Lightning, but that’s hardly the point. If the Bruins continue to play this way, getting solid goaltending and getting scoring from up and down the lineup, then they’ll set themselves up to be one of the toughest outs come playoff time.
“Listen, we want want everyone contributing,” Cassidy said. “When that happens, listen, your team wins a lot of games in a row, it’s because everyone’s pulling their weight. No passengers.”