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When David Backes was placed on injured reserve on November 2, his recovery time from colon surgery was a projected eight weeks. Tuesday’s game against the New York Islanders will mark eight weeks exactly. Fortunately for the Bruins, Backes made an almost super-human recovery, returning to the lineup after merely four weeks.

Backes was expected to miss the entire month of December. Instead, the Minnesota native played in all 14 games, recording 7-7=14 totals. Backes was especially impressive towards the end of the month, recording multiple points in each of the past four games (3-5=8). Powered by Backes and his recently formed third line with Riley Nash and Danton Heinen, the Bruins have recorded at least a point in eight consecutive contests (6-0-2).

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy lauded Backes for his recent play.

 

“The puck is finding him… You get on a bit of a roll, hopefully you can sustain it. He’s always been a consistent scorer, so good for him for getting to the dirty areas and the puck is finding him there.”

 

Not only are Backes and his linemates finding the back of the net, they are being relied upon to play valuable minutes in all situations.

 

“They play a lot. They are playing against good players so they have a lot of responsibility. They’re digging in. I think David missed some time, so he’s hungry. They’ve just jelled.”

 

In a 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on December 30, Backes led all Bruins forwards in time on ice (18:02), followed by his linemates Riley Nash (17:26) and Danton Heinen (17:16).

 

Backes was rewarded for his recent strong play by being named the NHL’s third star of the week.

 

“I concentrate on the process and the results will end up being there,” said Backes. “I think that’s been kind of the MO for the line that I play on and the power power play – do the right things all the time and eventually pucks are going to find you. It’s going to be your opportunity and you have to capitalize on it.

 

Backes was quick to credit his teammates for contributing to his success and the success of the team.

 

“I think it’s all pointing in good directions,” said Backes. “While it’s my name maybe on the third star, there’s a lot of credit to spread around for teammates and guys that I’m on the ice with. Being productive is great, but being productive in wins – especially against good teams is a great feeling to have.

 

Even the guys that aren’t piling up points on a game-to-game basis are all being very productive members of our team. Blocking shots, taking hits and killing penalties… that means the difference in winning and losing a lot of games and we need to focus a little of the spotlight on those guys too.”

 

RASK ROLLING

 

Things are clicking for Tuukka Rask, as the Finnish goaltender has backstopped the team to at least a point in 11 consecutive appearances. That streak is the longest of his career, and he is 10-0-1 in that span. In the month of December, Rask has only allowed 13 goals, recorded a goals against average of 1.22 and a save percentage of .955.

 

The scorching run for Rask follows a period in which he briefly ceded the net to Anton Khudobin for a four-game stretch while Khudobin was performing at an exceptionally high level.

 

Cassidy believes that stretch helped motivate Rask.

 

“Tuukka is clearly – however you want to summarize it – benefited from being pushed or not playing, finding his game, whatever you want to call it. He’s dead on…The passion was there. He wanted the net back.”

 

Rask noted that the competition has been very beneficial for the whole team.

 

“This year [Khudobin has] played great too,” said Rask. “I think it’s always good to have two good goalies and we are always pushing. No matter who the other guy is, you’re always trying to push yourself and have that competition.”

RETURN TO HEALTH

 

While most teams enter opening night with their full complement of players, the Bruins had to wait a bit to see their lineup come to fruition. With the exception of Adam McQuaid, who is nearing a return, the B’s are excited to finally see their full team on the ice.

 

“Kind of funny if you look at it that way,” said forward David Krejci. “It’s almost half the season behind us, this is the first time we have a healthy lineup. But at the same time, maybe it’s a good think that we got all those injuries out of the way early on in the season and hopefully we can stay healthy for the rest of the season.”

 

Patrice Bergeron also noted how the return to health has impacted the team.

 

“We’re healthier than we’ve been most of the year,” said Bergeron. “So that definitely has been helping a lot for us to get back to playing some good hockey. Like I said, you need everyone to be successful.

 

It’s not every night that you’re going to have the same guys. It seems like everyone is kind of falling in place. If it’s not one line, it’s going to be the other line on any given night so it’s been great.”

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Just when the Bruins thought they were nearing full health, more bad news arrived at the doorstep on Tuesday afternoon.

While David Backes, Brad Marchand, and Ryan Spooner all participated fully in practice and appear close to a return to game action, Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci missed the session and have been ruled out for Wednesday night’s tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

DeBrusk, day-to-day with an upper-body ailment, will become the 14th Bruin to miss time because of injury this season. Krejci, meanwhile, re-aggravated an upper-body injury that sidelined him for 11 games earlier this season. The pivot (also day-to-day) had played in five games since returning and was riding a two-game scoring streak (2-1-3).

“It’s tough. Every team goes through it though. You see it all around the league,” said Marchand, who has sat out six straight games and eight out of 10 because of injury. “I think Anaheim is in a similar situation as well. You have to battle through and the guys have. We’ve won four of the last five and we’re starting to come together. It’s good that guys are able to step up and guys are getting opportunities to take control and be big for us.

“Guys have done that and we have to continue to find ways to win. At the end of the year, you don’t want to have any excuses, you want to battle through it and it’s going to make the team better.”

Marchand shed the burgundy non-contact jersey for Tuesday’s session and will be a game-time decision against the Lightning.

“Not very much fun wearing that, nice to get the regular one back on and take part in the full practice,” said Marchand, “So it was good, I felt good today – felt good the last few days. I guess we’ll see.”

David Backes has also been termed day-to-day and a game-time decision for Wednesday night and appears to be well ahead of schedule in his recovery from colon surgery. Backes was originally given an estimated recovery time of eight weeks after the procedure on Nov. 2.

“Feeling pretty good,” said Backes. “Another step today in practice with full contact, trying to egg a little more contact with the day off yesterday and trying to push and test things so that you’re still in a little bit more of a controlled environment.

“If things are not good, you can call timeout, where as in a game there’s not that luxury or tell everyone to take a second to regroup. Went well, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Ryan Spooner was also back at practice after missing Sunday’s game against Edmonton.

“Had some time off, so he’s doing well. Looking good for tomorrow,” said Cassidy.

Bjork Returns

In other positive injury news, Anders Bjork was back on the ice for the first time since suffering an undisclosed injury against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 11. The rookie winger, who has missed the last six games, was donning a burgundy non-contact jersey and did not take part in the second half of practice, which consisted of several battle drills. He will not play against Tampa Bay.

Goalie Decision Coming

Cassidy did not divulge which goalie will start against the Tampa Bay Lightning, saying he will announce his final decision on Wednesday morning.

“Ideally, I’d like both goalies to give us a chance to win every night and be at the top of their game,” said Cassidy. “I think we’ve seen that with Anton [Khudobin] now, Tuukka [Rask's] not there yet. We’ve got to find a way. At the start of the year that’s what we had said, we want both goalies to play well and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what we need. That hasn’t changed.”

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Boston Bruins forward David Backes is going to undergo surgery to remove a portion of his colon and will miss about eight weeks, the team said Wednesday.

Backes has been dealing with diverticulitis, a disease characterized by inflammation in the intestinal tract.

“David’s episode of diverticulitis at the beginning of the season was his second episode in two months and was complicated with an abscess (collection of infection adjacent to the colon) that required drainage,” Bruins team internist David Finn said in a statement released by the team. “Repeated episodes, like what David experienced, have a very high likelihood of recurrence in the near term, which is why he was advised to have surgery to remove the area of colon causing the problem.

“It was determined that attempting to delay the surgery until after the season was an unacceptable risk to his health.”

Backes missed the first five games of the season with the condition. He played in five games in October, posting one assist.

The 33-year-old is in his second season with Boston after 10 years in St. Louis. He had 17 goals and 21 assists last season.

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David Backes is no stranger to playing center in the National Hockey League.

The 33-year-old manned the middle of the ice for 10 seasons (2006-16) with the St. Louis Blues – not to mention his tours of duty with Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. So with center David Krejci (upper body) expected to miss this weekend’s games – and potentially more – Head Coach Bruce Cassidy is turning to Backes to fill the void left by No. 46′s absence.

“You play center for so long, I don’t think it ever really escapes you,” Backes said following Wednesday’s practice.

 

“It’s just getting back into the flow of things and trying to stay off the wall and stay out of other peoples’ positions and support pucks, talk it out and be the other guys’ eyes so the plays get made. We’ve got a couple holes with injuries and we’re going to try to plug one with myself moving up a little bit and playing a different position, but that’s what this league is all about – you’re going to have injuries and you’re going to have other places where you need help and you need guys to step up. This is an opportunity for me to do so.”

Since arriving in Boston, Backes has embraced his role as a physical presence on the ice and a leader off the ice. Now presented with an opportunity to move up the lineup, the Minnesota native is excited to take on additional responsibilities.

“There’s something to be said about leading a line and taking control,” Backes said about his return to the center position.

“You’re kind of the director of the orchestra as you got your plays being made around you. You’ve got to support at times, you’ve got to push the pace at times and be defensively responsible and play a full 200-foot game. There’s a lot of pride to be taken in that and helping your team win doing the ugly things.”

As the lineup shuffling continues due to mounting injuries, Cassidy is tasked with finding wingers that mesh with Backes’ physical brand of hockey.

“I think David for the most part wants a line that fits his character, how he plays the game … straight lines, cycles, get it behind their D, possess it, wear them down,” said Cassidy. “Get your chances more on abrasiveness than finesse.”

During Wednesday’s practice, Cassidy deployed 21-year-olds Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak on Backes’ wings in a move that aims to add speed and skill to Backes’ size and strength.

“I feel like they have extra peps in their step and hopefully I can put pucks far enough in front of them to keep them going and to score more goals,” said Backes of playing between the young forwards. “Pasta has the ability. JD has the wheels and the finish and just needs more repetition and more opportunities. When pucks start to fall for him it’s going to be another dangerous weapon to have.”

After fielding several questions about playing alongside two forwards more than a decade younger than him, Backes took some time to reflect on his new status as an “old guy.”

“It’s funny how quickly the shoe goes on the other foot in this league,” remarked Backes.

“It feels like yesterday I was coming in as a 22-year-old kid wondering how all these old guys were still doing it, and wondering if I’d ever be that old guy … I had them over for dinner and they’re wondering what the heck is going on when I’ve got kids running around and dogs and a house to take care of and they’re worried about what Xbox game is coming out next.”

Krejci Week-To-Week

David Krejci, who was previously deemed “day-to-day” with an upper-body injury, was downgraded to “week-to-week” by Head Coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday in his post-practice press conference. The Czech centerman will not play in either of the next two home games against the Sharks and Kings, and will be reevaluated after this weekend.

Miller Cleared For Contact

Defenseman Kevan Miller tossed aside the burgundy non-contact jersey that he’s donned the last two days of practice and traded it in for a classic black practice sweater Wednesday morning. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound blueliner is “progressing well” according to Cassidy and appears ready to suit up for Thursday’s game barring any setbacks.

“It feels good,” Miller told reporters following Wednesday’s skate. “It’s been a few days of progress now, so I think this is one day closer to being ready for tomorrow.”

Known primarily for his grit and toughness, the Los Angeles native has put his versatility on display this season, as injuries have required him to play both the left and right side, as well as with different defense partners on a nightly basis. Despite the lack of continuity, Miller has proven to be a stabilizing, physical force on the Bruins back end, as he leads the team with 21 hits and 11 blocked shots.

“At this point I’ve played with pretty much everybody,” said Miller. “We all know each others’ tendencies out there and I’m looking forward to just hopefully getting the opportunity to play.”

Tuukka Time

Goaltender Tuukka Rask was a full participant in practice for the second consecutive day, and Cassidy told reporters that things are looking “positive” for the B’s netminder’s availability for Thursday’s game against the Sharks.

“Tuukka is continuing in the protocol and doing well so tomorrow morning he’ll get looked at,” said Cassidy. “If it’s all systems go then we’ll know tomorrow whether he gets cleared.”

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David Backes did not have the most pleasant view of Opening Night. Instead of skating around the ice at TD Garden, he was staring at the building from the window of his hospital room.

The standard definition television he was forced to watch the Bruins battle the Predators on didn’t help.

“That’s a tough emotional swing to swallow,” said Backes, who was sidelined by a bout of diverticulitis a few days before the opener.

“Watching at home is never easy when you’ve worked all summer and feel like you’ve kind of changed yourself a little bit to have a lot of success this season, and then have that false start to begin with, it’s tough to deal with mentally.”

Backes missed the first five games as he recovered from the illness, but returned to the ice on Tuesday morning for practice at Warrior Ice Arena and is hoping to be back in the lineup on Thursday against Vancouver.

“I think coming back and having the extra energy today…the past is the past, and we have to look at what the next step is to try to be the best player I can be to help us win games, and that’s what the focus is,” said Backes.

“Progress certainly. Return, we’ll see. And long-term prognosis, we’ll have to discuss with the really smart [medical] guys.”

With the team on the road for nearly a week, Backes, who was unable to partake in any physical activity for six or seven days, worked with the team’s medical staff and skating coach to get back into shape.

“Being able to skate with the guys, I was like a kid at the candy store before practice,” said Backes, who lost nearly 10 pounds through the ordeal. “For me personally, felt good out there. It’s nice to be back on the ice and smiling most of the day, just knowing that hopefully I’ll be playing ice hockey in the future”

Backes, who still is not quite sure what spurred the illness, sought advice from former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light, who battled Crohn’s disease, another intestinal problem, later in his career.

“Got his insight on professional athletes and dealing with these kinds of issues,” said Backes. “Trying to information gather and being as smart as I can so that I can be available as often as possible and be as productive as possible when I am available.”

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said Backes is a possibility to return to the lineup this week.

“He skated a little when we were away…we’ll consult with the medical staff going forward, his plan,” said Cassidy. “Potentially [will] be an option Thursday. That should sort itself out over the next few days.”

Bergeron Better

Patrice Bergeron rejoined the group for practice, as well, albeit in a red non-contact sweater. Bergeron participated for most of the session before leaving ahead of some three-on-three work at the end of practice.

“Feel like everything is getting better now, feeling stronger on the ice and more comfortable. Hopefully game action is closer rather than later,” said Bergeron.

“It’s a lot more fun to be with the guys than watching and sitting around and go out on my own. Today was one of those where I wanted to see where I was at.”

Like Backes, Bergeron is a possibility to return to the lineup on Thursday night.

“Bergy did a little more today, that was by schedule,” said Cassidy. “He wasn’t going to do the full practice, so progressing well. Again, Thursday’s a possibility for him.”

McQuaid, Spooner Miss

Adam McQuaid and Ryan Spooner, both of whom left Sunday’s game in Vegas with injuries, did not skate on Tuesday.

“Nothing yet,” Cassidy said when asked for an update. “They’re getting looked at this afternoon, should know more in the morning whether they’ll be joining us for practice.”

Heinen Heads Down

After being one the last cuts of training camp, Danton Heinen arrived in Providence hoping to seize the soonest opportunity to prove himself. That opportunity came early, as after just one game in Providence, the 6-foot-1 forward was called up to the NHL.

Heinen wasted no time making his mark, recording his first NHL point in his first NHL game of the season with an assist against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 11. Heinen followed that up with a two-assist effort against the Arizona Coyotes in a 6-2 victory, where he showed good chemistry playing alongside Tim Schaller and Sean Kuraly. Heinen averaged 13:56 minutes per game over his 3-game stint, and his 3 assists is tied for second on the Bruins.

But with Bergeron and Backes nearing returns, Heinen was sent to Providence on Tuesday.

“He did play well, he did what was asked of him, did his job,” said Cassidy. “Part of that is we feel guys are getting closer, so we’ll see. If they’re not ready by Thursday, then we may see Danton again. That’s a decision we’ll have to make as we get closer to Thursday.”

Fellow forward Austin Czarnik was also assigned to the P-Bruins on Tuesday. Czarnik has appeared in two games with Boston this season.