David Backes Finding Next Level

The Toronto Maple Leafs discovered just how colossal David Backes’ game can be.

Tuesday night, the St. Louis Blues captain scorched the Leafs for three goals, including an empty netter to seal the deal, en route to a 5-3 Blues victory. His second goal seemed to place the Maple Leafs in a state of unconsciousness when he beat goalie Jonathan Bernier with just 33 seconds remaining in the first period.

The Blues went on to outshoot the Leafs 36-14 in the first two periods before Toronto’s offense woke up with two goals in the third frame. Backes’ empty-net tally capped off his second career hat trick — his first coming in a 5-4 victory against the Red Wings on April 2, 2009, when he reached the four-goal plateau — and the Blues skated to their 49th win of the 2013-14 season to regain the top spot in the NHL.

The 2011-12 Selke Trophy finalist has been the hottest Blue as of late, recording six goals in his past five games. On top of lighting the lamp, 27 notches on the season to rank second on the roster, Backes has been a force on every inch of the ice. His plus-three rating Tuesday night gave him a plus-14 on the season, tying him for 10th on the team.

He’s picked up his hitting game, as well. The Minneapolis native registered four hits on the Leafs, bringing his totals in the past six games to 28. His 250 hits leads the roster, crushing Ryan Reaves’ 175 checks, which sits in second place.

I think he doesn’t give himself enough credit for how good of a 200-foot player he is,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said after Tuesday’s contest. “I think that’s one of the things that has really evolved in his game now. He’s a really good 200-foot player. He’s not just a checker, he’s a guy that can play in both ends of the rink. He’s very good offensively. He’s underrated offensively, and I think people are starting to see that.”

The timing could not be more perfect for the captain. A season after accumulating just six goals, Backes has scored two game winners in the past three Blues wins. His last was on Sunday, when his team narrowly defeated the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins, 1-0.

Alex Steen
Steen leads the Blues with 31 goals (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

The Blues averaged 4.10 goals for in the first month of the season, but have seen that number dip since returning from the Olympic break. The once-potent offense has averaged just 2.4 goals in the past 15 games.

Notorious for missing out on a scoring threat in the postseason, the Blues lineup will once again rely on someone already within the organization to step his game up. Last playoff, Alexander Steen came alive with three goals in the first-round loss to the Los Angeles Kings. He added two in Game 1, including the decider in overtime.

[See Related: Blues’ Lack of Scoring Dooms Season… Again]

Steen, who has seen a bump in his ice time this season, is likely to remain on a line with Backes and T.J. Oshie in the 2014 postseason. This line has produced as well as any top line in the league, contributing for 33.78 percent of the Blues’ goals on the season (76-225).

Although the trio is widely considered a dual threat with its ability to shut down opposing No. 1 lines (one shot for Phil Kessel on Tuesday), the Blues brass is hoping for the same type of production from its top line come mid-April. More importantly, there is reason to believe that Backes will improve on his four career postseason goals.

If he can continue to fill the back of the net in the regular season, that success could carry over to a time when the Blues need it most.