David Backes has dialed up his game and the St. Louis Blues captain is bringing everyone along for the ride.
Two more goals in the Blues’ 6-1 dismantling of the Dallas Stars in Game 3 Tuesday gave Backes five goals in 10 playoff games this spring. That’s an impressive total for a guy who had scored five previous playoff goals in 29 postseason games before this season.
What hasn’t changed is Backes’ all-out approach to the game. He’s still checking, still dealing out hits, still camping out in front of the net taking as much punishment as he hands out, still killing penalties and holding everyone accountable.
No one more than himself.
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Backes led the Blues with nine hits in Game 3 and also won 13 of 18 faceoffs (72 percent). He’s got three goals and four points in the last two games and five goals and eight points in 10 playoff contests.
Scored the game-winning goal in overtime to beat the Stars in Game 2. Scored the game-winning goal in overtime to beat the Blackhawks in Game 1. Helped hold Jonathan Toews without a goal in the first round.
He’s doing everything in his power to help the Blues and their long-suffering fans see what it’s like to go on a long playoff run.
“He’s hungry, truly hungry,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of his 32-year-old forward, whose hair is still growing back after shaving it for charity at the end of the regular season. “He wants it more and more and more. He’s not satisfied with anything. He comes down very quickly from a big performance; he’s back on task the next morning. He’s a very hungry player. There’s a lot of hungry hockey players in our locker room, which is a good sign.”
He’s hungry, truly hungry. He wants it more and more and more. He’s not satisfied with anything.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on David Backes
None of them hungrier than Backes, for obvious reasons. He’s looking for that playoff buffet, the one that lasts four rounds and ends with someone hoisting the Stanley Cup. The all-you-can-win special.
As the longest tenured Blue, Backes has sometimes been a lightning rod for criticism in past playoff runs. Before this season he was a part of five playoff teams and only one of those (2012) reached the second round.
The Blues did it again this year and while he’s got a lot of help, Backes has blossomed into the type of do-it-all Captain America some envisioned the Minnesota native and former U. S. Olympian becoming not that long ago.
He already has two overtime game-winners in the playoffs and three game-winning goals overall. In franchise history, the only other Blues to accomplish that feat are Hall of Famer Brett Hull (1988 and 1990) and Scott Young (2001) and he’s scored on a whopping 38.5 percent of his shots (five goals on 13 shots).
Backes’ five playoffs goals are tied with teammate Vladimir Tarasenko for fourth in the NHL.
If Backes and other core roster players who have made early playoff exits in past years were the much-criticized poster boys for those teams, then his efforts this postseason should be rewarded. He can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and will be seeking a multi-year deal.
Veterans like Backes, Alexander Steen, Troy Brouwer, Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and others are meshing well with an impressive crop of youngsters and rookies. This entire hockey-chemistry rich mixture is backstopped by a goalie — Brian Elliott — that even the Blues passed over three times to be their starting goaltender in the playoffs.
If ever a Blues team was built for playoff success, this is it.
You guys can write the stories and history will tell whatever it needs to tell, but what we can control is each little play that’s on the ice,” he said. “Sticking together as a group, picking each other up and playing one heck of a hockey game.
Blues captain David Backes
Backes is still the same stand-up guy, able to take even the silliest questions from media and try to put a positive spin on the answer. Need someone to pose for a picture with a fan? Sign an autograph? Talk with the sponsors? Backes is your man.
Ask him about any personal success that he’s having and Backes will go out of his way to detail the contributions being made by teammates.
On Tuesday he must have mentioned half the players on the Blues’ roster during his postgame remarks.
“We had probably our most complete effort of the postseason,” Backes said. “Good time to have it.”
His teammates have come to expect a lot from Backes. He’s supposed to score goals, set them up, provide forechecking and defense as a physical force and also serve as a leader both on and off the ice.
This might be some of the best work of Backes’ career.
“He’s stepping up to the plate right now,” Pietrangelo said. “I think that’s three game-winning goals for us, that’s what we need from our leader. He’s obviously a big influence in the dressing room every single day, but he’s really stepping up to the plate right now. We need more of that.”
Towards the end of the Blues-Blackhawks series, Backes talked about how badly this team wants to win in the playoffs.
“You guys can write the stories and history will tell whatever it needs to tell, but what we can control is each little play that’s on the ice,” he said. “Sticking together as a group, picking each other up and playing one heck of a hockey game.”
The Blues did that again on Thursday. If they keep doing it, Backes and his teammates will have a lot of hockey left in them.