Horton/By S. Bradley

The idea that Nathan Horton’s struggles were some sort of media creation and that he wasn’t deserving of any criticism he received is laughable.

Horton entered tonight’s game at Toronto without a goal in his last nine contests — his second such slump of that length this season — and just three goals in his last 21. Some nights, you’ve needed a microscope to find his contribution to the Bruins beyond the goose egg on the score sheet.

In Tampa Bay last week, head coach Claude Julien — not the media or the fans — benched Horton for a chunk of the third period because of his ineffectiveness. In the aftermath, Horton even admitted he had to be better.

To his credit, Horton turned his words to actions almost immediately. He was active both with the puck and on the forecheck in Buffalo Saturday. And tonight, he was finally rewarded for his revitalized play when he skated to the high slot with the puck on his stick and ripped a shot off the post and past Toronto James Reimer for the first Bruins goal of their 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs.

It’s been a while since Horton and Marc Savard — his center for a couple weeks now and his brother in being benched during the Atlanta game — have looked like the offensive talents their histories say they are. Savard’s goal tonight, which proved to be the game-winner, ended his seven-game drought. It has been a slow climb from completely ineffective, to generating a little offense, to being inches away, to lighting the lamp for the Bruins’ pair of top-line forwards.

Now, as it always is, the key for both players will be to keep pushing the boulder up the mountain rather than letting it slip down. Horton, in particular, should be due for a hot streak. He scored five goals in his first six games in black and gold and had folks thinking about a 50-goal season. Those projections have come back to Earth, but maybe Horton’s ready to take off again for another few weeks of unstoppable shots and engaged physical play. Inconsistency has been his Achilles heel for a couple years, he knows it, and now we’ll see if he can make the last six weeks look like the exception rather than the norm.

Savard has had his own demons to slay, especially the rust that comes with six months of being out with post-concussion syndrome. Most of us expected him to be back into fine form a little earlier than now. He’s supposed to be a point-per-game player and with three in his last four games now, he’s on the cusp of erasing the specter that comes with returning from serious injury.

Nathan Horton and Marc Savard couldn’t have picked a better place or time to make their return to form. They starred on the big stage in Toronto at the expense of Phil Kessel and the Leafs, and the Bruins have to be glad to have the duo back.

Now the club can only hope the pair of relied-upon performers stay in their current productive state for a while.