The puck that floated off David Krejci's blade traveled through every Boston neighborhood before landing onto David Backes's stick with the softness of a pillow. Had Backes lifted the puck a hair higher, it would have hit the back of the net instead of Cory Schneider's glove.
Nevertheless, it was with a sense of awe that Backes described the feed delivered by his first-time centerman.
"Saucer pass in the third from outside the hash marks to me, probably dot line, and I one-touch it onto the net, get it up in the air, and Schneider makes a good save," Backes said. "With the skill level there, it's enjoyable to play the wing. We've just got to finish the extra three feet of getting it past the goalie and we're sitting pretty with a multiple-pronged attack here. That's what we're going to need to win games."
In Thursday's 2-1 home-opening win over New Jersey at TD Garden, it wasn't just that Patrice Bergeron came back to make things all well and good with the first line. For the first time, Bergeron's return set things right with the second line of Krejci, Backes, and Danton Heinen. It was probably no coincidence, then, that Krejci (one shot in 19:51 of ice time) looked like Krejci for the first time this season.
"There's no doubt it helped," coach Claude Julien said of Backes's right-side presence. "They're getting a veteran player who plays hard, goes in, gets some hits, gets some pucks out for you. But at the same time, you have to give [Krejci] credit. He's been working hard at trying to find his game again. It's not easy when you've gone through surgery like he has."
There is a reason Krejci's teammates have called him Princess. The center can be a finicky high-maintenance player who likes everything just right, from his fitness to his sticks to his linemates. Against the Devils, with Bergeron back, things were more in the Goldilocks category for the No. 2 center.
Heinen, a left-shot wing, played his strong side after manning the right wing for the first three games. Backes, the fill-in top-line center between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak during the opening road trip, shifted to wing on Krejci's right flank. Both Heinen and Backes could reel in Krejci's feathery feeds on their forehands, something that every center prefers for setups.
On his first Garden shift, Backes thumped Mike Cammalleri. Later in the first, Backes rooted himself into the net-front area to touch a Krejci feed wide right of Schneider. In the second, while killing a Marchand slashing penalty, Backes ran over P.A. Parenteau in the offensive zone. In the third, Backes shrugged off John Moore's holding infraction to continue advancing toward the net. Over his 22 shifts, Backes played the part of robust right-wing authority. Some would call it yuge.
"I don't know how many shots I had tonight, but it felt like a lot," Backes said. "If I can make good on a couple of those, I think we're cruising to a win instead of grinding one out. Krech and Heinen both made some great plays. We got in the offensive zone. I think our shifts were pretty long in the first. We had to manage that and get back to shorter shifts in the second and third. I think it was everything except the finish. I'll take responsibility for that."
This formation was part of the plan when the Bruins signed Backes to a five-year, $30 million contract. Krejci has put up big numbers when he's had a right-shot strongman clearing space on his wing, from Jarome Iginla to Nathan Horton or even to Blake Wheeler.
The No. 2 line did not find the back of the net. The first line handled the scoring, from Brad Marchand's tying goal to Bergeron's winner at 18:45 of the third. But the second line raked Schneider with high-quality chances.
Backes led all players with six shots while being credited with a game-high seven smackdowns. Among forwards, Backes had a team-high 19:58 in ice time, a workload that would have gone inched even higher had he not been called with a borderline roughing penalty when he scuffled with Taylor Hall in the final minute of play.
When Backes jabbed Hall in the face, he was filling another of his multiple roles: defense-first right wing. With Schneider off for an extra attacker, the six Devils tried to score on the Bruins' makeshift shutdown threesome of Marchand, Bergeron, and Backes. This is the line that Julien will roll late in games to protect leads, given Backes's experience, faceoff touch, and defensive acumen. As well as Pastrnak is playing, he does not have Backes's defensive résumé.
Backes finished the game in the penalty box because of his infraction. The timing of his penalty was poor. But his intentions were right. Backes does not have a history of backing down. Teammates will kill those penalties all night long.