The same Raleigh ice that was host to the best of the best for the NHL All-Star Game just two days ago served as the site for another historic occurrence tonight.
Nathan Horton scored.
Yes, the ever-smiley, often-struggling Bruins winger, who months ago started the season as though he was going to be the brightest star in Boston’s constellation, snapped a 10-game drought and buried his 13th goal of the season in the team’s 3-2 win over Carolina.
Horton, who famously started the season with five goals in the first six games, saw his All-Star aspirations collapse during a disappointing next 42 games, during which he scored just seven times. Now rather than an All-Star, he’s striving to become a second-half sensation.
Perhaps tonight’s goal, scored from right in front of the Hurricanes goal off a feed from behind the net by David Krejci will be the season-turner for the oft-criticized Horton. Just before he went to the net, Horton won a battle in the corner to get the puck to Krejci. He was active along the walls and in front of both goals all evening – a semi-regular happening over the last several weeks that he wasn’t scoring.
There have been other Horton goals and stretches of games that seemed like they might get him on a roll. But for most of this season, getting Horton going has been like trying to spark a cigarette lighter in a windstorm. He scored Nov. 15, but then went nine games without a goal. He then followed a three-goal-in-four-games stretch with nine more goal-less contests. He went into tonight’s game with just one score in his last 21 outings.
Historically, Horton has been streaky. And the Bruins can live with that, as long as he can stay on a 25-goal pace. He had fallen off that track since early December. Now he’s starting a month of the calendar that has traditionally been kind to him.
Last season, injury and the Olympic break kept Horton from playing any February games for Florida. In the three prior seasons, however, he skated in 34 games in the year’s shortest month, and posted an impressive 21-12-33 totals, including nine goals in 15 games in 2007-08 (when he finished with 27 goals).
February always has a connection to love because of the presence of Valentine’s Day. So maybe it’s appropriate that the guy who repeatedly states he “loves to be here” in Boston produces pretty well during the second month.
The Bruins know they need to be even better than they were in the season’s first 50 games during the stretch run. They know that they’re going to need offense from even more sources. So if Horton can perform up to his star potential over the final 31, any lackluster stretches of his season prior to the All-Star break would be easier to forgive and forget.