May 28, 2011

Horton the Game 7 hero yet again

Nathan Horton scored the only goal in Game 7 with 7:33 remaining in the contest. (Getty)

BOSTON -- When Nathan Horton saw just 23 seconds of ice time in the second half of the first period, sustaining what he deemed "just a bump" on a big hit from Nate Thompson, the Bruins winger put a scare into the rabid crowd on hand at TD Garden for Game 7. The clutch forward ended the night by giving them goose bumps.

With Boston and Tampa Bay still scoreless more than 52 minutes into the contest, Horton motored to the net with David Krejci drifting to the corner, patiently waiting for a seam to open up. With one flick of Krejci's wrist, the puck zipped by a defender and found its way to Horton. No. 18 promptly tipped it by Dwayne Roloson to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.

It was one they would never relinquish. Tim Thomas stopped everything the Bolts threw his way over the final 7:33, as Horton's goal stood up as the only tally, giving him his second game-winner in a seventh game this postseason and punching his team's ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.

"It’s awesome," Horton said after the game. "What a feeling. It’s nice, there are twenty eight other teams that would like to be in our position. And it’s an unbelievable feeling that we’re going to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s pretty nice."

Ever the humble individual, Horton had no intention of patting himself on the back, no matter how heroic his performance may have been on Friday night.

"Well it does feel good," he said of coming up big in yet another Game 7. "It definitely feels good to get the game winner but I mean it feels better to know that we’re going to the Stanley Cup Finals. And it’s all about team here and it’s a pretty amazing feeling. In the end it doesn’t really matter who scores the goals but it does matter if you’re moving on. And we are, so that’s all that matters."

Many wondered at the onset of the postseason just how exactly Horton would fare. The 25-year-old forward spent the first half dozen years of his NHL career wallowing in the Sunshine State, as the Panthers were on the outside of the playoffs, looking in during his entire tenure there. 

With eight goals, a team-leading 17 points, two overtime strikes and three game-winners, the hockey universe is now fully aware of what Horton is capable of when the games matter most.

"Well he certainly has played like a big-game player, obviously," coach Claude Julien said. "Overtime goals, game-winning goals. I think for a guy who hasn’t played in the playoffs for many years, he’s certainly kept a lot of energy inside of him and a lot of excitement to go out there and play the way he did. I thought it was fitting, not just for him, but for our team."

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who also shined with a 24-save shutout, shared a little pep talk he had with Horton.

"We had a little talk earlier the other day and I was just saying let’s go," said Thomas. "I said something about do it again tonight, I know you’re going to and then I said let’s do it together and sure enough look who came up big. He’s a big money player, there’s no doubt about it. A big time player."

As for that little bump Horton worked his way through in the first period, there was never a doubt on the Bruins bench that he'd be back in short order to be a difference-maker in the decisive tilt.

"He’s a great guy," said Krejci. "He wants to be here and win really bad. He just made some adjustments and came back and scored the game-winner. He’s got some big goals for us. Game seven against Montreal and the game-winner here."

If Horton can add the Canucks to that list, those pining to see the Bruins capture their first Stanley Cup since 1972 might be on the verge of getting what they wish for.