Bruins' Backes must face Blues buddies for Stanley Cup
BOSTON (AP) — David Backes waited his entire career to play for the Stanley Cup, and now he's going to have to do it against some of his best friends in hockey.
The former St. Louis captain will face his old team with the NHL title on the line, starting Monday night when the Blues and Bruins open the final in Boston. It's not the ideal situation for the 35-year-old Backes, but after waiting 13 seasons to get to this point, he'll take it.
"It's a binary decision now. It's us or them. One of us is going to win the Cup," he said this week after the Blues beat San Jose in the West final.
"That's the position you'd want to be in at the beginning of the year," Backes said. "I wish those guys well up until this point, but now it's all about us and winning this thing. All our thoughts and all our efforts are in this room."
Backes was an all-star in 2011 and a leader on the Blues who finished in the top seven of the Selke Award voting for five straight seasons before signing a five-year, $30 million contract with Boston in 2016. St. Louis feared Backes would be a financial burden by the end of the deal.
Backes has indeed slowed, and coach Bruce Cassidy scratched him for three games against Toronto in the first round and twice more against Columbus.
But since he returned to the lineup, the Bruins have won seven in a row to reach the final for the third time since 2011.
Cassidy said Backes' leadership and experience were factors in getting back in the lineup. And now that the team has advanced, winning a Cup for Backes has become a motivational cause in the locker room.
"He's a very popular guy on the team," Cassidy said. "So the guys that won one want to win again, obviously, but there's a little extra pull for sure for a guy like David. He's been a captain in this league, he came to the Bruins with the feeling he'll have an opportunity to win a Cup, and here we are."
And the Blues will be trying just as hard to prevent it.
"I don't think anybody thinks about personalities," St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. "Yeah, we spent a lot of time together, but on the ice there is no friends. We are not friends. It's just going to be a hard final."
Blues defenseman and team captain Alex Pietrangelo said he learned a lot from Backes during their six-plus seasons together. Their families have also become close.
But he has played against Backes in the Olympics and the NHL regular season, so it's not unfamiliar territory.
"I don't want to dwell on this too much. We've got a bigger thing to deal with," he said. "I sent him a text yesterday to say, 'Thanks, and we'll be friends again in two weeks.' And I never got a message back."