Bruins’ David Backes embracing new enforcer role as team stays red hot

Watch as Carolina Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland destroys Boston Bruins forward Marcus Johansson with a heavy body check.

David Backes might be in the midst of the worst statistical season of his 13-year NHL career, but that certainly doesn’t mean he’s been ineffective for the Boston Bruins.

In fact, the veteran forward wants so much to contribute to his team’s success that he has altered his role to become the Bruins’ new enforcer and his impact was noticeable in Tuesday’s dramatic overtime win over the Hartford Whalers Carolina Hurricanes.

As you can see in the video at the top of the page, Boston’s Marcus Johansson was laid out by Carolina’s Micheal Ferland early in the first period. Johansson, acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline, was injured and forced to leave the game but although the body check was legal Backes took exception and held Ferland accountable less than a minute later.

Ferland is no slouch when chucking knuckles and Backes wound up on his back rather quickly yet it was Ferland who was forced to leave the game after the tilt and the Bruins bench appreciated Backes’s effort.

“You have to stick up for your teammates,” Backes told reporters following the game. “Tonight’s hit, which was a hard, clean hit, but if guys are running at our skilled guys we need to hold them accountable and I thought there was an opportunity for me to step up and you know, fill that role.”

The 34-year-old is no stranger to fisticuffs as his 30-plus career NHL fighting majors would suggest, but he has now dropped the mitts in three of his past four games after not fighting at all in his first 50 games of the season.

His lack of production, declining foot speed, plus several recent forward acquisitions the team made has the Minneapolis native literally fighting for ice time and it’s something he and Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy have recently discussed.

“I asked Butchy when we were in Vegas (for a Feb. 20 game against the Golden Knights) and we had a meeting if I could be put in roles or places that would have a bigger impact on games and you know, whether that’s with my gloves off or my gloves on I think he’s provided me those opportunities and hopefully I’ve done my job for him,” Backes said.

In addition to fighting the six-foot-one, 217-pound Ferland, Backes has gone toe to toe with Sharks enforcer Micheal Haley and Tampa Bay youngster Adam Erne in the past week.

Backes acknowledged the seriousness of head trauma but added that one’s own physical wellbeing “can’t be a thought in your head when you’re out playing in the NHL.”

Backes, whose goal totals have decreased year-over-year since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, has a history of documented concussions – a fact not lost on his coach.

“Listen, they’re human beings first, and when you coach them every day that’s always a concern,” Cassidy explained. “But David, I think, is grabbing onto an area of the lineup where he feels he can contribute. So, we really appreciate that as a staff and the players do too, that he’s putting himself in harm’s way for the good of the team, and that’s leadership.”

Generally speaking, the Bruins have been one of the more physical teams in the league over the past decade. Their 2011 Stanley Cup run boasted a physically-intimidating roster that included Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid and some guy named Zdeno Chara, the only current Bruins player older than Backes.

Although that pugnacious brand of hockey is less common these days, Backes still sees a place for it.

“You know, I guess it’s a calculated decision and if I’m going to stay part of this team and stay a part of a winning team, that’s maybe going to be part of my role and I’m okay with it. It’s sticking up for each other, sticking together again. It’s a staple of what we do here.”

The Bruins are 13-0-4 in the past 17 outings and will look to extend their hot streak Thursday at home against the Florida Panthers.

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