WILMINGTON, Mass. — Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that since Nathan Horton landed with the Bruins he’s been “excited” about everything.
I’m pretty sure that as long as he’s doing it in Boston, spreading bread on butter, pumping gas or any seemingly pedestrian activity is “great” to the always-happy power forward.
In a perfect world, the uptick in intensity from the regular season to the playoffs should spark a similar increase in enthusiasm from Horton. The former Florida Panthers forward, however, has never experienced the NHL playoffs since he reached the game’s highest level in 2003. All he knows it what his more seasoned teammates have told him.
“From what I do talk about with guys, you know it’s a different game,” he said today at Ristuccia Arena after his first-ever NHL playoff practice. “It’s one step up from the regular season and every game means something. You’re playing in the moment and that’s pretty much what they say.”
Horton famously came to Boston with the tag as a player that had all the talent in the world but found it difficult to stay motivated and play with the required passion. After a fast start with the Bruins, he hit a lull in December and January that made it look like he was going to live up to his reputation. However, something clicked in February and he became a forechecking, fighting machine that proved to be a perfect complement to season-long linemate Milan Lucic. With Lucic and Horton flanking him, center David Krejci was able to work his magic and combined with the hulking duo to provide the Bruins with a legitimate No. 1 line.
In the playoffs, the cliché about playing every shift like it’s your last becomes reality. The postseason should suit Horton’s style just fine, as he’s transformed into a whirling dervish that can score goals and hit over the last several months. If he doesn’t change a thing, Horton should be able to succeed in the playoffs the way he did most of the regular season.
Of course, there have been greater players who were swallowed whole by the playoffs. Everything Horton’s heard about the playoffs can’t prepare him for the general increase in electricity the postseason brings or the impact having Montreal as the opponent will have on the emotion of not just the players but the crowds.
To his credit, he says he’s ready.
“I think I’m pretty confident. This is what you play for as a hockey player and just to be in this situation and be part of this, it’s pretty special,” he said.
It’ll only be special if Horton hits the ground running. The way the Bruins are built, they cannot afford to wait for one of their top goal-scorers to get going. He said when the Bruins traded for him that the new atmosphere would re-start his career, and it took him several months to get going and truly embrace playing passionate hockey in an emotional hockey town.
If anything could wipe the smile off Horton’s face and make him think everything’s not as great as it seems, it would be an early playoff exit and a goose egg in his goal column. He’s waited a long time for this opportunity, so he has to take advantage of it right from the outset.
Horton has been everything the Bruins wanted him to be (a scoring winger) and more (a bruiser and fighter). His chance is now here to add Stanley Cup playoffs hero to his description.