BOSTON (CBS) — A handful of Bruins veterans will be playing in their third Stanley Cup Final next week. But for one veteran, it will be his long-awaited first shot at raising Lord Stanley’s Cup.
That would be 35-year-old David Backes, who after 13 seasons in the NHL is finally heading to a Stanley Cup Final. He felt a roller coaster of emotions Thursday night after Boston completed their Eastern Conference Final sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.
“The full gamut,” said Backes. “A little relief, a ton of gratitude for all the work that’s gone in, and a lot of love for my teammates and the guys that put the work in. It’s just an awesome group and you saw it afterwards; the hugs are never-ending. You love the group and love to go to battle with them and do whatever we can to sacrifice for each other in order to get a win.”
Bostonians may not appreciate such a drought anymore, given that the Bruins are now the third Boston team to be playing for a title since October. But Backes spent the first 10 years of his NHL career in St. Louis, serving as their captain as five of them. The furthest he made it was the Conference Final in his final year with the Blues, losing to the San Jose Sharks in six games. In 2012, the Blues were swept out of the second round, which was the only other time they made it out of the first round during Backes’ tenure with the team. He suffered four first-round exits and missed the postseason four other times while in St. Louis.
When he signed with the Bruins in 2016, Backes was hoping that his postseason misfortunes would change. But the B’s were ousted in the first round by the Ottawa Senators in his first year in Boston, then eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round last year.
It’s certainly been a long road for Backes to get this far in the postseason, and he won’t take this shot at the Cup for granted.
“You don’t know when you’re going to get these opportunities. It’s something we’e stressed to the younger guys, that they’re pretty darn fortunate to be in year two or three or four to be in the Stanley Cup Final,” he said. “Some guys play their whole career and never get this opportunity. So we’re trying to let them know how important this moment is and to make the most of it. Let’s lay it all out on the line and may the best team win.”
Backes’ journey through the 2018-19 season was an up-and-down one. He saw his minutes decline throughout the season, and morphed his game to be more of a physical presence for Boston to remain in the lineup. Given the speed of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Backes was a healthy scratch when the playoffs began last month.
But he was reinserted in the lineup for Game 4 against the Leafs, and has made the most of his limited opportunities since. Averaging just under 10 minutes of ice time, Backes has notched a pair of goals and three assists, all while bringing that physical presence the Bruins have needed on their second line.
“I got a lot of respect for David,” Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy said Thursday night. “It wasn’t easy. We had a conversation the first time we sat him out, and we did in the playoffs as well, trying to get the best lineup, right or wrong. He was a true pro the whole time.”
While he doesn’t carry the same offensive clout as he did in his time with the Blues, Backes certainly brings professionalism to everything he does. Though his fit was uncertain at times, his mentality is one that is shared throughout the locker room.
“We’ve been kicked down but rebounded back, and that shows the character in our room,” he said Thursday.
Now Backes and the Bruins will wait patiently as the Sharks and Blues battle in the Western Conference Final. The Sharks own a 2-1 series lead heading into Friday night’s Game 4, so the Bruins will have plenty of time to rest and heal before playing for the Cup. Either opponent would be a fitting adversary for Backes; either his former team or the one that ended his time in St. Louis. He doesn’t seem to mind either way.
“They’ll play out however they play out. I’ve got no bearing over that, so we’ll watch from afar, get our rest, and hopefully heal a couple bumps and bruises that you get along these playoffs.,” he said. “You sacrifice a lot to win this game. We’ll be ready for whoever it is.”
Backes doesn’t think there will be a “Win It For Backes” mentality when the series gets underway; after battling alongside each other for 99 games this season, the Bruins want to win it for every man who’s given it their all to get to this point.
“We’ll win it for each other. That’s now the reality; we have one team to beat in order to win that thing,” he said. “It wouldn’t be terrible.”