By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If you’re buying what EA Sports’ NHL 20 is selling with their 2019-20 season simulation, we’re getting an early-season, late-night look at the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights tonight at T-Mobile Arena.
And David Backes, who was scratched for the final three games of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, will be involved.
A healthy scratch in last Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Coyotes due to the 2019-20 debut of David Krejci, who missed Opening Night due to a lingering lower-body injury, the 35-year-old Backes will return to action on a fourth line with Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly, and after an impressive showing in the line’s first showing of the season last Thursday.
“Go out, do your job, finish some hits when they’re there, hopefully make the plays that are in front of you, help that line with puck possession in the o-zone,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Backes’ job with that group. “I thought he did those things in Dallas.”
Credited with three shots on goal and a hit in 10:45 of time on ice in his last appearance, the 6-foot-3 Backes repeatedly used his frame and bruising style to keep plays alive along the boards, at one point helping pin the Stars in the defensive zone for a full minute. It was enough to wear the Stars down to the point of taking a penalty (the Bruins failed to cash in on the power-play opportunity), and it was an effort that did not go unnoticed, and has made Backes a seemingly viable candidate as a suitable Noel Acciari replacement on a highly-effective fourth line with Kuraly and Wagner.
But now comes time for No. 42 to show that he can be consistent.
While he was good in short bursts at different points last year, Backes had a difficult time creating a long-term fit with any of his groupings a year ago, and bounced up and down (and then out) the Boston lineup. Given the Boston roster construct — the Bruins are likely to rotate three different forwards in and out of the lineup, especially with Joakim Nordstrom (foot) returning to practice — that’s likely to happen this year, too. But with every strong showing on the fourth line, the harder it becomes for Cassidy and Co. to take Backes out of action given the grunt work that line does for the rest of the B’s roster.
“They’re probably more forecheck, create a turnover, get it to the net,” Cassidy admitted.
#NHLBruins coach Bruce Cassidy on David Backes sliding back into the lineup tonight: "David was good in Game 1, hopefully he picks up where he left off and plays a solid game." pic.twitter.com/Ou1PUTSRbk— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) October 8, 2019
And Cassidy also believes that Backes, who scored seven goals in 70 games last year, could be that line’s finisher.
“He’s got a good shot,” Cassidy said. “When he’s got time to get the shot off, he’s pretty good at beating goaltenders.”
Tuukka Rask will get the start in the Boston crease. Rask stopped 28-of-29 in a 2-1 win over the Stars on Opening Night.
The Golden Knights will counter with Marc-Andre Fleury. The veteran Fleury has allowed just two goals through two appearances this season (both victories over the Sharks), posting a .965 save percentage over that 120-minute sample. Fleury has 12 wins and a .917 save percentage in 24 career games against the Bruins.
The Bruins took both head-to-heads with the Golden Knights last year, defeating Vegas by a 4-1 score in Boston early in the year, and then dropping the Knights by a 3-2 shootout final in Las Vegas on Feb. 20.
Here are the complete expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Karson Kuhlman
Danton Heinen – Charlie Coyle – Brett Ritchie
Chris Wagner – Sean Kuraly – David Backes
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Connor Clifton