Backes willing to absorb shots to produce tip-ins for Blues
ST. LOUIS -- David Backes stood tall in front of the net as long as possible, finally ducking in case he whiffed on the puck with his stick.
Result: Another dirty goal.
The St. Louis Blues' captain got the scoring started in the opener of the Western Conference finals, redirecting a shot from the point by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk past San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones. Watch for more fearless play in Game 3 on Thursday night, especially given the Blues got shut out in Game 2.
"We know we have to be better and we know we have to bring more," Backes said after the 4-0 loss Tuesday. "Now it's up to us to bring that."
Backes has seven goals for St. Louis, tied for the team lead with Vladimir Tarasenko, and 13 points. Three of the goals have come on tip-ins.
A fourth goal deflected off a Chicago defenseman for an overtime score to open the playoffs.
Though he's four inches shorter than the 6-foot-3 Backes, Sharks captain Joe Pavelski also has a knack in front of the net. Pavelski would have scored on a tip-in during Game 1 but got an assist because the puck hit Tomas Hertl on the way in.
The 32-year-old Backes credits his hand-eye coordination to years playing baseball and learning not to be intimidated by the inside fastball.
"It's similar speed, knowing that there's a chance you get hit, but the reward for standing in there is well worth it," Backes said.
In all his years, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he's had only one other player, Raffi Torres, willing to wander into traffic and stay put. After the opener of the series tied at a game apiece, Hitchcock referred to Backes as a hunter.
"He hung in there and was ready to absorb the shot," the coach said. "If it would have hit him, it would have hit him. He's a very unique player that way."
Teammates aren't shy about loading up from near the blue line but usually take care to keep the shot from sailing too high and becoming too dangerous. Backes likes to see it screaming in about 4 feet above the ice, level with the crossbar, so he's not going to get anything more than a nasty bruise for his troubles.
"I've gotten a couple up higher," he said, "but it's kind of a mind-set that that's something we need done, and I'm willing to go in there and stand there, and hopefully guys shoot right by me and into the net and we get to celebrate as a group."
Depending on who's got the puck, Backes has an idea of how little time he has to react. Alexander Steen shoots "real hard," Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo both shoot "hard." At the start of the season, Backes had a chat with rookie defenseman Colton Parayko, advising him to "dial it back to like 70 percent" until the trust factor was established.
"He always goes to the hard spots," Parayko said. "You're getting pushed around, you're getting hacked and whacked. So kudos to him."
Backes also scored in overtime to beat the Stars in Game 2 of the second round, leaping high to avoid the puck and then slapping it home. His deflection put the Blues ahead to stay in their 6-1 Game 3 rout of the Stars in the second round, and in Game 5 of the opening round against Chicago, his tip-in tied it late in a loss.
Backes' point total equals his postseason output from five previous playoff trips. Before this season, St. Louis was eliminated in the first round three straight times.