Kalman: Bruins’ Backes hoping to go from Cup party guest to host

Matt Kalman
May 26, 2019 - 7:06 pm

You know about the challenge Bruins forward David Backes is up against facing his former St. Louis Blues teammates in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, which opens Monday night at TD Garden.

But do you know about the dilemma Backes faced this time last year after the Washington Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights for their first ever championship? Backes’ close friend and former Blues linemate for seven seasons T.J. Oshie got to hoist the Cup not long after captain Alex Ovechkin received it from commissioner Gary Bettman.

Backes no issue about how to feel for his fellow Minnesotan.

“I was ecstatic for him, we were out of the playoffs obviously,” Backes told WEEI.com after the media day festivities at TD Garden on Sunday. “So you know your buddies that are there, and I had [David] Perron and [Ryan] Reaves on the other side [with Vegas], and it was Osh and Lars Eller that was a former teammate of mine [on Washington]. So I mean you cheer for those guys.

“And when Osh won it, he’s a guy that I think made my career in this league. He was Marshy to me the way Marshy is to Bergy … we were kind of a tandem and worked together. His competitiveness and his ability to read the game, he made me look good on many a night. So I was extremely happy for him, as family, friends, we’ve got our girls that love to play together too.”

But then came the invite to join Oshie at a private party at the end of the Capitals forward’s day with the Cup. Backes was taken aback at first, and he even consulted another player to ask if it was kosher to go to the party. Backes attended.

“It’s kind of odd that he won the trophy that I was trying to win. I think if it’s in the finals [against the Bruins], I don’t think I would’ve gone. But it’s not like they knocked us out anyway,” Backes explained. “And to see the fun that they had that night, I didn’t touch the thing but took a picture with him and congratulated him.”

The 35-year-old Backes said his only previous experience in the presence of the Cup came on a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and perhaps a visit to the Minnesota Hockey Hall of Fame. Now he’s four wins away from getting up close and personal with the Cup. And barring unforeseen circumstances, Backes is going to be a contributor to the Bruins’ attempt to win a title for the second time this decade.

It didn’t always look like Backes would be among Boston’s active players if they got this far into the postseason. A healthy scratch seven times in the regular season, Backes was a healthy scratch for Game 1 of the first round series against Toronto and then sat out five straight games from Game 6 of the Maple Leafs series until he returned for Game 4 against Columbus in the second round.

He’s played seven straight games since (all Bruins wins), contributing two goals and two assists despite averaging just 9:52 of ice time per night. But Backes has made the most of his ice time and his time on the bench and in the dressing room. Even when he wasn’t suiting up, or when he was benched for an entire period against Toronto, Backes continued to be a positive force for the Bruins, someone they could easily welcome back into the lineup when he was needed.

“It’s pretty special. I mean it’s hard to keep your emotions in check, especially during those times,” defenseman Brandon Carlo said. “But overall with the way he went through it, with being in the league for 15 years and being a primary player in those high-pressure situations for that long, and then kind of making that transition, I think he had a lot of respect for the guys that have done it before. So that helped him push it along. It gained a lot of respect from me in that aspect of seeing him go through that and stay so positive and remain such a good guy within our group.”

Backes is famous for helping Carlo and other Bruins find church services when they need them on the road, or taking teammates to dinner or a movie when they’re down. He’s a father figure that takes every player under his wing, and has paid his dues with more than 900 NHL games played to his credit. It’s easy for him to be a sentimental choice for a guy the rest of the Bruins want to win the Cup before he bows out of the league.

“Yeah, I think you can look around this room and say that about almost every guy,” said forward Sean Kuraly. “But he’s a special one that you’d really like to [win for]. These guys have done things for us that … you want to help them as much as you can too.”

Backes left the Blues with regrets about not getting the job done. They lost in the Western Conference Final in 2016 the season before he joined the Bruins. It’d probably be a bigger regret if the Bruins lose this series and this summer he’s invited to a Cup party at another close friend’s house, maybe Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo.

Backes hopes he gets to send a Cup party invite to the Blues captain. And Oshie hopes so too.

“He’s reached out and said ‘it’s your turn now,’” Backes said.

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