Backes finally making his outsized presence felt on and off the ice


BOSTON – There’s no doubting David Backes visualized a night like Thursday night as he was stuck in a hospital bed after having 10 inches of his colon removed last month.


The 33-year-old power forward returned to the Bruins lineup more than a month faster than expected following his abdominal surgery for diverticulitis and the hockey gods finally rewarded him for his toughness in his fourth game back with a pair of goals in a 6-1 blowout win over the Arizona Coyotes at TD Garden.

Backes had been getting progressively better with each game since his return and the two-goal game was as good as he’s looked in the two seasons he’s been with the Bruins.  

“I kind of knew the dam was going to break here eventually, felt like we were creating a lot of good quality chances and just not finishing them off,” said Backes. “I thought there were clean chances where we were able to get good looks, and then [we] finished them off into the back of the net.”

It was clear Backes had good skating legs and top-end energy from the moment the puck was dropped. He was jumping in on the forecheck, creating turnovers and then he finally stepped up with the two-goal outburst in the second period at a time the B’s needed a jump start in a stagnant 1-1 game.

If the big-bodied winger can provide that kind of consistent production from a key spot on the third line it really changes things for the Black and Gold and makes them a deeper, increasingly dangerous team.

“It’s been a while coming for David. Played some games, we played him some games to prepare him for his surgery, which was completely weird, and then he comes back and played some good games but didn’t get rewarded,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who collected his 500th career NHL point with an assist in the loss to Nashville on Monday night. “So for him, I think it was important and he’s a well-liked guy in the room…guys were genuinely happy.

“You knew it was going to come, but the way he scored it, that’s like I said, is his bread and butter – hang out in the dirty areas and then the other [goal he scored] was great.”

The first goal, and eventual game-winner, was classic Backes after a long cycling shift for the third line of Danton Heinen, Riley Nash and Backes that seems to be gelling together as a unit. Matt Grzelcyk had cycled the puck down low and worked it up to Nash at the point, and the third-line center fired a shot from long distance toward a high traffic area. Backes stepped in between a couple of Arizona defenders, carved out his spot in front and put a high tip on a shot that rocketed past Kyle Wedgewood for the score.

Little more than five minutes later Backes was at it again and used an active stick on the fore-check to steal a puck from Alex Goligoski before snapping a wrist shot high glove side over Wedgewood for a little insurance. Just like that, the Bruins had a two-goal lead and they never looked back after that.

“I was hoping he would get a hat trick there,” said Tuukka Rask. “Their line got us going there in the second with their efforts, and everybody followed after…so great leading by example.”

Backes finished with four shots on net, four takeaways and a plus-3 rating in 17:23 of ice time and was a dominant force in his best game of the season for the Bruins. He’s also brought a little more toughness and attitude both mentally and physically since his Alpha Dog personality has returned to the dressing room. That has given some of the veterans a lift after grinding through injuries over the past couple of months.

“He’s a commanding presence. In the room he’s a very vocal guy and very intelligent. He knows the game and he knows what to say at the right time,” said Brad Marchand. “He can really bring a lot of emotion to the game – in the room and on the bench and it shows in his play. You know, he’s always determined, he plays hard, and he’s very tough to play against. So he’s big for our team.

“He's stepped up all over the place – in the room, on the ice, and on the bench. He’s a big void when he’s not playing. So we’re very lucky to have him back, he stepped up big tonight and you know, really turned that game around for us.”

It’s a tremendously positive development for the Bruins and Backes that he’s back at full strength after two months of struggle and uncertainty. Now it’s a matter of staying there, producing and seeing just how good he can be while still relatively early in his long-term stint with the Black and Gold.  

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