Blues captain David Backes, age 32, has seen some things through the years.

When the Blues summoned Backes to make his NHL debut less than a week before Christmas in 2006, he was 22 years old. The franchise had just fired Mike Kitchen as coach, hiring Andy Murray as the replacement.

David Backes celebrates a goal with teammates in the first period of Tuesday’s Blues win.

The Blues were wallowing at the bottom of the league’s  frozen pond.

They were stuck at  seven wins and a .313 winning percentage as Backes dressed in The Note for the first time.

These were the Blues of Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Barret Jackman, Eric Brewer, Bryce Salvador, Lee Stempniak, Petr Cajanek, Jamal Mayers, Manny Legace, Jay McClement, Martin Rucinsky, Dallas Drake, Christian Backman and Curtis Sanford — just to name-check a sampling of the 2006-2007 roster.

Murray was a positive coaching influence, the Blues began to funnel their emerging draft choices into the roster mix, and by the end of Backes’ third season the Blues were in the NHL playoffs — where they got rudely swept away by Vancouver, losing four in a row before they had a much of a chance to breathe during a harsh opening-round ejection.

There were more firings, with Davis Payne replacing Murray and Ken Hitchcock coming in to provide adult supervision after Payne’s dismissal in November of 2011. Backes has been around so long, he’s been a Blues teammate of Yan Stastny and Paul Stastny. He’s been a Blue for so many seasons that he’s been on the ice with 12 different starting goaltenders — from rookies (Ben Bishop) to NHL icons (Martin Brodeur), failed trade acquisitions (Ryan Miller) and mystery men (Jason Bacashihua.)

Backes was drafted in the second round in 2003, when Bill Laurie owned the franchise. There was a new owner, Dave Checketts, in place for Backes’ rookie season. And now he’s paid by current Blues owner Tom Stillman.

Backes began his career with Larry Pleau as GM, and he’s still a big part of a deep and talented squad assembled by current GM Doug Armstrong.

Backes has been part of this core for so many seasons, he played with Paul Kariya and Robby Fabbri.

Backes was part of a heralded youth movement that produced the likes of T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson, David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Lars Eller and Alex Pietrangelo.

But the only remaining members from that 2009 Blues’ playoff roster that still remain here are Backes, Berglund and Alexander Steen.

By my unofficial count, Backes has had 134 teammates in St. Louis — skaters and goaltenders.

Backes became the Blues’ team captain in 2011.

Backes became the team captain in 2011. He’s been a significant presence on a team that’s had the NHL’s best regular-season record since Hitchcock took over as coach. He’s played for the U.S. Olympic team. He was voted to one NHL All-Star team. He’s warmed the hearts of pet lovers everywhere by rescuing  homeless dogs — even bringing one back from the Olympics gig in Russia to set up an adoption in the U.S. And lately he’s been busy rescuing the Blues.

Backes arrived a couple of months after the 2006 Cardinals won the World Series. He was still here when the Cardinals won another World Series in 2011. He was here when Albert Pujols left as a free agent. He was here when Tony La Russa retired. He was here when Chris Carpenter retired. He was here when the St. Louis Rams last posted a non-losing season (8-8 in ’06.) He was here when the Rams moved to Los Angeles. He was here when Mizzou football had a run of unprecedented success under coach Gary Pinkel.

Backes was here when Mizzou and St. Louis U’s basketball teams competed in NCAA Tournaments. He was here when Missouri moved from the Big 12 to the SEC. He was here when Chaifetz Arena opened, and when the Peabody Opera House reopened. He’s been here for the massive beautification of the Arch grounds. He’s been here through the sadness of Ferguson.

At times it seems like ol’ No. 42 has been around this place as long as Mayor Slay.

(I was going to say Chuck Berry, but let’s not get carried away.)

Backes has worn the gorgeous Blues uniform in 727 regular-season games. In franchise history only four players have repped the Blues more frequently: Bernie Federko (927 games), Jackman (803), Brian Sutter (779), and Brett Hull (744.) And only five have scored more regular-season goals than Backes, who has 206. And he ranks 6th in team history with 460 points.

Yes, Backes has seen some things.

And if you look at Backes now, you can see what he’s been through. You can see it on his face, with scars and welts and scratches and bumps and multiple-colored bruises. He looks tired as hell — even though we all know that the Captain is indefatigable. Backes shaved most of his hair off for a recent charity event, and he’s growing bristly playoff beard, and the circles under his eyes are getting deeper by the day. All of this makes Backes look even more weathered than he is.

As Marc Spector wrote so wonderfully earlier this week for Sportsnet Canada:

“As the sticks and pucks have left their marks, Backes has taken on the look of a prisoner doing hard time. And perhaps, when we’re talking about a career spent on the best NHL organization never to win jack, that is apropos.”

Until this season, Backes had been on five Blues’ playoffs teams that won a single playoff round (2012), teams that suffered four first-round losses (2009, 2013, 2014, 2015), teams that lost 21 of 31 postseason games overall.

Before this 2016 postseason, Backes’ most memorable playoff moment came in 2014, and for all of the wrong reasons: he was splattered into the end boards and knocked virtually unconscious on a cheap-shot hit from behind, targeted by Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook. He missed two games before returning to the lineup — just in time for another Blues’ demise.

The story of his career. Well, at least until now.

Backes has been a respected captain here — as dedicated and durable, as faithful and fierce, as Barclay Plager.

But let’s face it: Backes wasn’t Jonathan Toews , the captain of the Chicago power that won three Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2015. Few among the frustrated fan base have been willing to cut Backes a break over that.

This is why we should rejoice for Backes now.

This is why we should appreciate what he’s doing in what could be his final days and weeks as a Blue.

Backes can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and there’s no telling how this will play out.

We do know this much: he’s increasing his market value in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

No, the Blues aren’t even halfway through in counting the 16 victories they’ll need to win the Stanley Cup. They have six. They need 10 more. The Blues will be confronted by many challenges as they try to push their way through to a deliriously happy conclusion that the STL  hockey community has longed for over the last 48 seasons.

The Blues have made progress. They look confident and bold. They’re developing survival skills.

The Blues defeated Toews and proud Chicago in the first round. Here in Round Two they lead the Dallas Stars 2-1 in the best-of-seven series that resumes Thursday night with Game 4.

The Captain cannot rest; much work and heavy lifting await Backes and his thick shoulders.

But we are watching David Backes having the Greatest Postseason of His Life.

And we should be thrilled for this admirable St. Louis sports diehard.

In 10 postseason games this spring, Backes has five goals and three assists.

This is notable for a few reasons:

— In his first 29 postseason games for the Blues, Backes had five goals … total …  or as many as he’s scored in the last 10 games over 21 days.

— Four of Backes’ five goals have been money. He scored the overtime game-winner to defeat Chicago in Game 1. He scored the OT winner to save the Blues after a third-period collapse, sealing a 4-3 victory in Game 2 at Dallas. He scored the tying goal in Game 5 against Chicago, to give the Blues a chance at overtime. His goal in Game 3 Tuesday put the Blues ahead of Dallas and triggered a 6-1 rout of the Stars. It was officially the game-winning goal.

— That means Backes has three-game winning goals in these playoffs — the most by any player in the tournament to date.

— Backes’ five postseason goals in this 2016 mean season give him as many through Tuesday as Jamie Benn and Vladimir Tarasenko, one more than Alex Ovechkin, and two more than Sidney Crosby.

In Tuesday’s Game 3 thumping of the Stars, Backes turned in one of the strongest postseason performances in Blues history.

Backes scored two goals, and the first was a biggie. Backes logged 31 shifts and was on the ice for 17 minutes 10 seconds. He led Blues forwards with 2:31 of penalty-kill time, keeping the dangerous Stars off the board. He worked 3:05 on the power play and banked a PP goal. He had a team-high nine hits. He won 13 of 18 faceoffs, or 72.2 percent.

Backes has absorbed the hard knocks — and delivered even more of them — to keep some of the Stars’ best forwards under Blue thumbs.

“He’s a guy that, every game he pushes it,” Blues rookie defenseman Colton Parayko said. “He wants to win, is the biggest thing, and every game he’s doing whatever he can — whether that’s scoring, making hits or sacrificing his body. When a guy like me sees that, it goes a long way.”

This is what leaders do. Fight through it. Battle for their boys. Put the past aside. And show the team the way as a previous underachiever carves out a new postseason path.

Backes is leading this rugged expedition.

He could skate on a line with Lewis & Clark.

“He’s hungry,” Hitchcock said after Game 3. “He’s really hungry. He wants 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 hockey player. There’s a lot of hungry hockey players in our locker room right now, which is a good sign.”

When he met with reporters after Game 3, Backes made sure to glance at the clock.


There was no curfew … but there was a reason.

“Everyone stepped up tonight,” Backes said. “Good team effort, and we’ll take the win, and enjoy it the rest of the night. Which is six minutes now. And we’ll put it behind us and get ready for Game 4.”

Six minutes, the Captain declared. Six minutes to enjoy Game 3. Six minutes until the clock would strike midnight, filing Game 3 away into history. Six minutes before resetting that clock to prepare for Game 4 and the chance to take a 3-1 series lead and move the Blues a step closer to the Western Conference finals. Backes has seen some things since 2006. He wants to see a lot more before his time here is over. Go get it, Captain.

Thanks for reading …


Game Photos: Blues’ 6-1 Game Three Win Over Stars

The post Smile For David Backes, Who Is Having the Postseason of His Life appeared first on 101Sports.com.

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