Surveillance cameras at local hockey rinks failed to reveal any sightings of David Backes on Wednesday.
If the St. Louis Blues were keeping Backes' availability for Game 4 of their playoff series against the Blackhawks a secret in hopes of gaining an edge, no one at The Edge could confirm the forward was skating in its arena. Backes wasn't in the house at Johnny's Ice House. If Backes went west, he couldn't be found at West Meadows.
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"He wasn't available for the pregame skate," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of his captain after Wednesday's pregame skate.
Rumors started circulating Tuesday that Backes would be ready for Game 4. Asked if his star would play that night, Hitchcock reiterated: "He wasn't available for the pregame skate."
Talk about a Hitchcockian mystery.
The Blackhawks have Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews. The Blues have a captain who, all kidding aside, is seriously hurt. Backes was scratched for the second game in a row following Brent Seabrook's hit to Backes' head along the boards late in Game 2 at St. Louis. Seabrook served the second game of his three-game suspension Wednesday night.
While Backes didn't take the ice for the morning skate, Hitchcock seemed to be having fun at the media's expense. The coach wasn't completely ruling out Backes being back.
"On this one, I could probably be a liar," Hitchcock said. "I wouldn't evaluate our roster right now, until you see it tonight. Just be careful. Put it in pencil today, not pen. I might be fooling with y'all today."
Hitchcock even joked that Backes could be practicing elsewhere, not at the United Center.
"You never know. He could be skating at another rink," Hitchcock said. "You don't know that stuff. There's a lot of rinks here in Chicago. So he could be doing other things. But he's not going in the lineup unless he's a player."
For sure, when Backes plays, he's a player, one of the best, a U.S. Olympian in Sochi.
"Certainly, a key guy for them in terms of quality ice time, quantity of ice," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's a big body out there as well. But no matter who's playing in that spot, (we have to be) ready to work hard."
Backes had 1 assist in the series' first two games. At 6 feet 3 and 221 pounds, he's built for playoff hockey -- rugged, physical, fearless, highly skilled.
"He's usually at the front of the net (on the power play) -- screening, tipping pucks and getting rebounds," Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said.
"He's really good at that. It's something we're going to have to see. I think we're prepared for it either way. Obviously, they're a better team when he's there, especially in front of the net."
With the series shifting back to St. Louis for Game 5 Friday night, the Blackhawks won't focus on whether Backes will be back on the ice. If he plays, he plays.
If Hitchcock sticks to the script, Backes' availability might not be known until just before opening faceoff again.
"He's a tough competitor," Oduya said. "I think their focus is to win games and ours is, too. I'm not assuming anything else, and whatever happens on the ice, happens on the ice."