After the Boston Bruins’ 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils in a shootout Tuesday night, a horde of reporters gathered around Bruins forward Nathan Horton’s locker. Horton was responsible for sending the game into overtime after he scored with just over four minutes remaining in regulation to tie the game at 1-1.
The first question for Horton didn’t come from a reporter. It came from teammate Zdeno Chara.
“Why is it so easy for you to score goals?” Chara asked. Horton answered with a trademark smile and chuckle.
Indeed, Horton is starting to make goal-scoring, especially clutch goal-scoring, look easy. His game-tying goal on Tuesday marked the second time in four games that Horton has tied a game for the Bruins in the third period. That statistic must be an especially welcome one for Horton after what he went through just to get back on the ice this year.
Last January, Horton was knocked out for the season when a hit from Flyers forward Tom Sestito left him with his second concussion in just over six months. After seeing concussions destroy the career of another Bruins forward, Marc Savard, everyone in Boston had good reason to worry as to whether Horton would ever get back on the ice, never mind return as the clutch player he had been on numerous occasions for the Bruins.
But while the rest of Boston had every reason to be concerned, Horton said he knew he had nothing to worry about.
“I don’t know what day it was or when it was exactly, but definitely there was a point when I knew I was back, I knew I was strong,” Horton said. “I didn’t worry about getting hit or anything like that. It’s a good feeling when you don’t have any, when you’ve gone through what I did and you don’t have any setbacks and you know that you’re strong and you’re ready to go.”
Horton’s teammates benefited from his heroics on Tuesday night, but they said his success means more to them than just another way to register points in the win column.
“I think obviously with a guy with as much heart and a leader on our team as Horty is, seeing him do well really lifts everybody up,” said forward Tyler Seguin.
“He’s always smiling, and obviously with what he’s been through and how he’s responded … even since the first day we all saw him and how big he was and how committed he is to this locker room, it really shows his leadership qualities and his passion and love for the game, so obviously seeing him do well, it’s awesome.”
Through the first six games of the season, Horton has definitely proven his strength on the score sheet; he is riding a four-game point streak with three goals and two assists in that time. He is also proving to be durable, averaging nearly 18 minutes of ice time per game, a mark which ranks him fourth among forwards on the team. Horton is physical when he needs to be and is not afraid to make his presence known in the dirty areas around the net.
In short, he looks like Nathan Horton, not a player returning from two serious concussions in a seven-month span.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything holding him back,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “That’s pretty impressive, because sometimes guys come back a little tentative. That’s not the case with Nathan. He’s been pretty poised, and I think right now you’re seeing him at his best. We all know that he’s a machine. It doesn’t seem like he’s skipped a beat, he’s right back in great form and we’re feeding off him, no doubt.”
For Horton, the points or hits or number of shifts he gets per game does not seem to matter. As much as he likely enjoyed scoring the tying goal late in the third yet again for the Bruins, Horton emphasized that at the end of the day, he is simply happy to be back playing hockey again.
“When you’re away from the game, and not just me being injured, but I think guys realize now how much fun it is, how lucky we are to be able to play in the game, be able to play here,” Horton said. “I think everybody realizes that now, especially for me having such a long time off and not being able to play, I just want to get back at it. Just being around the rink, being around the guys, we have such good chemistry with everyone, I think it’s fun to be around everyone.”