Note: This story was originally published on Inside Hockey and is being republished with permission.
St. Louis, MO- David Backes has 1,008 games of National Hockey League experience across thirteen regular seasons and nine trips to the postseason. 727 regular season and 49 postseason games saw Backes wearing a St. Louis jersey, including his five seasons as the Blues’ 20th Captain. The 35-year-old center understands more than most how significant the Blues’ trip to the Finals is for the city. He famously spoke about the pain of losing in a tearful locker room speech after falling to the San Jose Sharks in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, then the longest St. Louis playoff run in 30 years. Backes himself played 20 games that postseason and scored 7 goals and 7 assists for 14 points, tied for second on the Blues with Jaden Schwartz and only behind Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasanko.
After their Game Six loss to the Sharks in 2016, Backes observed: “You see a lot of true character in guys when they’re tested. The heart’s in here, the ability’s in here. We just came up short.”
Three years later, the Blues showed the heart that Backes talked about and earned their way to the Final. They did so without Backes, who now wears an “A” on his Bruins jersey and will be facing his former team in the Final as a visitor to the Enterprise Center. The Minnesota-State Mankato alum has accepted that.
“I expect it to be like a road playoff game tomorrow. I think I’m past the point of the soft and fuzzies. I think we had those moments in my returns prior, regular season moments where you can really soak that in. But it’s business now.”
Backes played to his physical form in Game Two, drawing observations on his history with the team. He has not lost love for his old home, though. He has spoken well of his former teammates and is still involved in area organizations; namely the Five Acres Animal Shelter, a no-kill animal shelter in Saint Charles, which is 27 miles from the Enterprise Center. It’s the only shelter of its kind in St. Charles County.
“It’s a place we sort of blossomed our charitable work for our four-legged friends that we continue to do now. It’s a place that was closed to closing their doors when we got involved. And not that it was only us, but a bunch of great, kind-hearted people turned that place into a trendsetter, a standard bearer for animal rescue. We still have granted them funds since then and continue to follow the great work they do.”
That said, Backes has compartmentalized his feeling toward the city and is geared for a Cup run with the Bruin spoked B across his chest.
“You see the buzz around town. You know what this means to a place where it’s 49 years since the last Finals occurred here. You see how much it means. But, at the same time, we’re focused on what our group needs to do in a pivotal Game Three where we need to respond and react and adjust the way they did after losing Game One.”
Backes has the most history to move on from, but his mood reflected the rest of his team. St. Louis outplayed Boston in the second game at TD Garden and the Bruins know it. Boston is lacking Matt Grzelyck after being decked into the boards by Oskar Sundqvist (now suspended for Game Three). Head Coach Bruce Cassidy expects John Moore to slide into the lineup for his would-be fifth playoff game this year. It would be his first Stanley Cup Final game since aiding the Rangers to the 2014 Final against Los Angeles.
The “Perfection Line” is also looking for a clean start on the road. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand gave the puck away four times each in Games One and Two respectively, most in either game, and David Pastrnak was demoted and replaced by Danton Heinen for long stretches of Game Two. Bergeron also went 38% in the faceoff dot in Game Two. The four-time Selke Trophy Winner and Finalist for the 2019 edition of the award sat for Friday’s practice. Cassidy coined it a “Maintenence Day” and confirmed that 37 will be in the lineup for Game Three.
“They’re so committed,” said Zdeno Chara of longtime teammates Bergeron and Marchand. “They compete. I’m confident they will respond. They’ve done it all season for us. They’re our top line for a reason.”
“I know them well enough and have seen them performing well in the playoffs,” said Cassidy. “They’ll eventually get to their game and I believe that will be tomorrow.”
The first Stanley Cup Final Game in St. Louis since the Blues and Bruins met on May 5th, 1970 begins at 7 pm CT. Backes and the top unit have to put their past games behind them and appear poised to do so.