BOSTON — The smile on David Backes’ face said it all after he scored his first goal of the season on Sunday night.
It was more than it being about the game-winning goal against the rival Montreal Canadiens in a 3-1 win at TD Garden, and it was surely about more than finally getting on the board a couple of months into the hockey season.
Instead, it was about Backes overcoming the mental and physical fallout of a nasty, violent collision with Scott Sabourin a month ago, and grappling with things like the mortality of his NHL career while dealing with another concussion. The 35-year-old has had a handful of them during his time with the Bruins and it took a few weeks for the fog to lift for Backes this time around before he started feeling clear-headed 10 days ago.
So each head injury becomes a situation where Backes needs to think long and hard about his future beyond hockey, and an opportunity to check in with doctors to make certain he’s okay to continue playing — both mentally and physically.
But for right now, Backes is feeling free to play mentally and that made a difference in returning to the lineup after a very emotional few moments last month as he watched Sabourin get wheeled off the ice in a stretcher following their train wreck of a collision.
“You could see it on my face. That was elation,” said Backes, when asked his emotions Sunday when he scored the goal and celebrated with David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk and others on the ice at the time of the timely score after sitting out the last 13 games with the injury. “In the first game back to have a go-ahead goal with 10 minutes left and to get that opportunity on the power play, you appreciate those opportunities.
“It’s an awesome group of guys. It’s the best group of guys. To get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t a fluke because we genuinely care about each other, we pick each other up and we check on each other when we’re injured or not around the rink. I think [my teammates] are genuinely happy for my success and that’s not always the case in professional sports. I’m able to play with a clear mind and not worry about things like taking my next hit, and maybe it being my last one. Instead I was able to go out there and play on instincts tonight, and instead I felt like I was one step ahead and able to influence plays. Sometimes not thinking is better than overthinking and I was just out there playing the game.”
The freedom to simply play allowed Backes to rack up five shot attempts in nine-plus minutes of ice time, and step into the right place at the right time in the slot for a one-timer blast as a part of the second power play unit. David Krejci fed him the perfect pass from the half-wall and Backes showed impressive timing, given his month-long layoff, as he swept up the puck and lifted a perfect shot past Carey Price for the third period go-ahead goal.
It was exactly what the Bruins needed for the two points on Sunday and it showed what the Bruins have been missing at times over the last month when Backes is at his best.
“[Backes] went in the bumper there in the past when Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron] been out. Years ago it was Riley Nash. So he’s been there before, at times. We’re happy it worked out tonight. Happy for him,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s been working hard to get back in the lineup, we didn’t know what he’d have [for a game] to be honest with you, he hadn’t played in a while. I thought he gave us some good energy, had a couple of looks, was banging bodies and his pace seemed fine.”
With Patrice Bergeron and Brett Ritchie still out with injuries, it was a welcome sight to see Backes head back into the lineup, giving the B’s more size and strength up front. On Sunday Backes showed he can still generate some offense too, which would be a bonus for Boston moving forward if he can kick in the occasional timely goal as he did for the game-winner against the hated Habs after sitting out the last month.
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