BOSTON – Nathan Horton must be getting used to being the Game 7 hero.
In the first round, Horton delivered the knockout punch against Montreal. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Horton delivered the fatal blow in perhaps his finest moment as a Bruin when he scored the Conference Finals clincher and lifted Boston past Tampa Bay, 1-0, in front of 17,565 at the TD Garden.
The goal, coupled with a 24-save performance from Tim Thomas, helped send Boston to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1990. The Bruins will face the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Horton has been the hot hand for the Bruins recently, as he has posted 9-6-15 totals in nine of the past 12 contests. It was no different on Friday night, save for the fact that this goal means so much more than the previous eight tallies.
“Just to be a contributing player feels pretty good,” Horton said. “It’s definitely nice (to score the game-winner). Anything to help the team win.”
The goal came courtesy of a great play that started from the defensive zone, which is where much of the offense came from in a tight Game 7. Krejci took the puck below the left faceoff circle and waited for Horton, who sped between two defenders and deposited the pass past a helpless Dwayne Roloson (37 saves).
“We came back and grabbed some speed,” Horton said. “Ference made a great pass to Krejci, and I saw him get a little bit of space, so I tried to go to the net and give him some space. He gave me an unbelievable pass.”
The pass may not have happened thanks to an off-ice incident after Game 6 in Tampa. Horton allegedly squirted a fan with a water bottle and then threw the bottle at that fan. No suspension came of it, and the Bruins are glad that was the case, as without Horton the win may not have happened.
“It wasn’t even on my mind,” Horton said of the potential suspension. “It feels good to be out there and to get the game-winner.”
With 7:33 remaining in regulation, the Bruins still had to kill off nearly half a period, and they did a tremendous job of doing so. Boston continued to provide heavy pressure and keep Tampa from having easy entry into the Boston zone.
“Once they went up 1-0, they really came back with five guys and it was tough to get anything,” Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said. “They really came back tight and as a team.”
“I thought we stayed with it and (didn’t) get too excited,” Bruins’ forward Brad Marchand said. “In the last 7:00 we kept at ‘em and didn’t sit back.”
The Bruins also benefitted from a penalty-free contest. Boston had been the best team in the league at even strength, and it showed tonight as Boston did a tremendous job of shutting down Tampa’s best players. Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Lecavalier combined for just five shots on goal.
The Bruins will have to be just as disciplined against the Canucks when the teams meet in Game 1 in Vancouver on Wednesday night. The Bruins will have plenty of time to both enjoy the Game 7 triumph and refocus on the task at hand. Though for one player, no celebration is necessary.
“Well, there’s no need to celebrate, we’ve got a bigger picture that we’re looking at,” Bruins’ forward Shawn Thornton said. “The ultimate goal is right in front of us.”