BOSTON — The emotion on David Backes’ face was both undeniable and unfakable.
After 13 years in the NHL, the Boston Bruins forward’s eyes were moist after his team completed its sweep of Carolina to win the Eastern Conference. Backes was finally going to the finals and playing to win a Stanley Cup. The realization of that washed over him and he didn’t try to hold back the feelings.
In many ways, Backes has become the emotional face of this Bruins postseason. In the midst of so much success in Boston sports in the past 18 years, it’s the personal stories woven into the team dynamic that make each one special and unique. In the past year alone Boston fans watched Jason McCourty a once-winless Cleveland Brown, and David Price, who had been defined by his playoffs struggles, become champions. Both turned their former failures into motivation and appreciated what they were experiencing and accomplishing.
Whether he realizes it or not, Backes is walking in their footprints.
This Bruins roster is largely filled with either young guys who have much of their careers in front of them or veterans who played for the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team. At 35, Backes is a veteran, but unlike the other players his age, he’s never even reached the finals.
Backes is one of the most well-liked players, not just in the Bruins dressing room, but in all of the NHL. He was well-liked and respected as a U.S. Olympian and the captain of the St. Louis Blues. He’s not nearly the same player but he’s embraced his smaller role. While his minutes are down and his role decreased, Backes is still a respected, well-liked veteran voice.
After being a healthy scratch early in the playoffs, the Bruins have won seven straight games since he returned to the lineup. It would be an exaggeration to say he’s led Boston to those wins, but he’s got two goals and two assists and helped neutralize the physicality of Columbus and Carolina’s size. He’ll be on the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk Monday when Boston faces either St. Louis or the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the finals.
Some of his teammates were almost as happy for him as they were to reach this milestone themselves.
“It’s awesome to see the passion and emotion that he had on his face after (the) game,” Brad Marchand said. “He’s been such a huge part of our group. He’s such a great leader and we build so much emotion off the way that he plays. He’s just such a phenomenal guy, great teammate, and he’s had an incredible career.
“When you see a guy that’s been around that long, he hasn’t had an opportunity to play for a Cup, finally has that opportunity, it’s a lot of emotion,” Marchand said. “(Patrice Bergeron) said it before. When you play in this league for a long time, you start to appreciate and understand how hard it is to win and how few opportunities you get really to win that Cup. We have an opportunity to play for it this year and you could just see how excited he was. It was awesome to see.”
Jake DeBrusk, who has played on a line with Backes for much of the playoffs, agreed with Marchand.
“We’re pushing for him. He’s dealt with certain kinds of injuries and certain things, and even being scratched through some of these playoffs as well,” DeBrusk said. “Just to see how emotional he was after the (Eastern Conference Final) was pretty cool ... it was something that was special, especially for a young guy to see the big, strong DB getting a little emotional.”
Backes seemed both appreciative and a little embarrassed by the added attention.
“I’m quick to remind them you can play 13 years in this league and never make it to the Stanley Cup finals. We’re blessed to be in this position. Each and every guy should take this as potentially their only time,” Backes said. “I try to remind those young guys, ‘I appreciate you thinking of me, but think of yourself as well and think of the guy to your left and right.’ You can be 21 and thinking the finals are a common thing every other year. This is a rarity. We need to take the opportunity and make the most of it. ... It took me 13 years in the league to get here. Now we’re here and we’re going to make the most of this.”