I’m sitting here trying to come up with a reason it’s not a total bummer that the vile Boston Bruins are in their third Stanley Cup Final of the decade after a 4-0 win to complete a sweep of Carolina, and, reader, I am struggling. (This applies to non-Bruins fans only, of course. For Bruins fans: Congratulations. Your team is very talented and very well-run, and we all hate you for it.) In no universe is this a better outcome than any of the teams they dispatched along the way. The exceedingly likable Hurricanes would have been a blast. The Blue Jackets would have been bizarre and playing to keep their roster from imploding in free agency. Even Toronto, which would have been just about as insufferable as Boston, would at least have been insufferable in fresh and exciting ways.
But, no, it’s the Bruins, and it’s time to come to terms with that. There are upsides here. One is that the Bruins swept the Canes, who swept the Islanders, who swept the Penguins, which means that Pittsburgh has been swept as embarrassingly as a team can conceivably be swept. They have been ultraswept. They may not even be paying attention at this point, having started traditional offseason activities a full month ago, but every subsequent sweep pushes their tee shots a little deeper into the rough. If the Bruins get swept in the next and last round, it’ll be wonderful for at least two reasons I can think of right now.
More immediately satisfying is that 35-year-old David Backes has finally made a Cup Final. His first, in 13 NHL seasons. At the final horn, the Bruins’ celebrations gradually converged on Backes—the veteran Bruins have been here before, and their first thoughts were with the guy who hadn’t.
With damp and red-rimmed eyes, Backes spoke about how all those years of trying and coming up short have given him a special appreciation for this moment, and for the potentially lifelong importance of the next few games.
Backes spent the first 10 years of his career in St. Louis, the last five of those as team captain, and he was a dependable, often underrated two-way center on a team that rarely mattered in the spring. In 2016 he signed a five-year deal with Boston, and since then has seen a fairly steady slowdown in his game. He rarely plays center anymore, being used almost exclusively on the right wing, and this year things got so rough that Backes attempted to reinvent himself as a self-proclaimed enforcer. Things had gotten so rough that Backes was a healthy scratch for Boston’s first playoff game.
But in a lineup shuffle in the second round, Backes landed opposite Jake DeBrusk on David Krejci’s second line, and he’s earned the spot. While the points may not be there right now—he’s got two goals and three assists in 10 playoff games—he’s doing everything right, and adding some physicality to a line that clearly benefits from it. He is, after all this, a useful NHL player on a team that’s going to the final. That ain’t bad.
“You’ve thought about this moment for a long time — of playing for that ultimate prize that you dream of when you’re a kid,” Backes said. “Now, it’s reality. It’s us against one other team, and one of us is going home with that Stanley Cup. It’s what you dream about.’”
And so Backes will be the Eastern Conference’s candidate for “old dude who finally wins a Cup,” up against either A Whole Bunch Of Sharks, or, uh, I guess Alex Steen? You could do worse! Be thankful for silver linings where you find them.