April 9, 2011

Horton hopes to ride second-half surge into the playoffs

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins winger Nathan Horton throws down with Zack Smith during Saturday's 3-1 win over the Senators. (Getty)

BOSTON -- For a while there, the funk in which Bruins winger Nathan Horton found himself mired in seemed inescapable.

In his first season in the Hub of Hockey, the former Panther managed to go through a stretch in which he went from being the sensational sniper the B's so badly needed to a man who seemingly couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat.

Thankfully, as the postseason looms, Horton has re-emerged as the go-to goal scorer that the Bruins hoped he would be when they acquired him from Florida last summer.

"Well I’m definitely not happy with how long I went without scoring," Horton said when asked to reflect on his season, pointing to that rough patch in which he buried just five goals in 41 contests.

"Those things happen, and I feel good about working through it. Right now all that matters is playoffs. That part’s gone now, and when we get in the playoffs it’s a new season and a new year. This is where it really counts. I’ll be looking to do my best and not let that happen again."

Since putting that cold-streak to bed, Horton has more than salvaged his campaign with the Black and Gold. Over the last 23 games, the 6-foot-2 winger has a dozen goals to his credit, including six in the last nine tilts, boosting his total for the season to 26 in the process.

The rise in his play in other facts of the game, however, has been equally important for the 25-year-old forward.

"You know, it’s not always about scoring, it’s about being there and being in the play and being involved, and hard to play against," said Horton. "All the little stuff that really matters, that’s what it’s all about. It’s nice to score, it’s nice to help your team out, but when you’re not doing that, you’ve got to do something to help your team. That’s what I’m trying to do, and that’s what I’ll continue to do."

He did just about everything in Saturday's 3-1 win over the Senators, scoring the game-winning goal in the second period before dropping the gloves with center Zack Smith shortly afterward.

"It just kind of happens," Horton said when asked if he was weary of getting injured in the bout, his seventh of the season. "In the game you don’t really think about it. Obviously I don’t want to get hurt, but you know you don’t about that during the game. You’re a hockey player."

While Horton's increased tenacity and rediscovered scoring touch has certainly helped endear him to the Bruins legion of faithful fans, coming up big in the first trip to the playoffs of his NHL career will definitely boost his status in one of the most hockey-crazed communities in North America.

"Yeah, it’s nice," Horton said of his first playoff game being just around the corner. "Especially to play 80 games here in Boston, where hockey’s the world. It’s been a special year for me, and I’ve enjoyed it. There’s some downs and some ups, and I’m looking to continue the ups, and I think everyone is here."