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Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin were spectacular in the post-hockey skills competition, which earned the Bruins an important two points.
However, the biggest revelation of the evening, as the last two Stanley Cup champions went head to head, was that Nathan Horton does in fact still play for the Bruins and he can both score and throw the body.
For now, we can consider the “ghost of Aaron Rome” exorcised and Horton’s stint of invisibility seems over.
For four games, plus two periods of the game in Chicago, Horton had been pretty much just taking up space whenever he was on the ice. He’d fired just four shots on net. Real-time stats tracking varies from building to building, but it wasn’t hard to accept that Horton hadn’t been credited with a hit through four games.
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Finally, in a pivotal third period for the Bruins in Chicago, Horton showed signs of life. After having a few shots go awry and getting his stick lifted in a couple battles over the course of the first 40 minutes, Horton had his stick on the ice when Johnny Boychuk set him up for the tying goal 7:56 into the third period. The goal was vintage Horton, as he found open space in the slot area and then whizzed the puck past goaltender Corey Crawford.
Two minutes later, Horton forced a Chicago giveaway by nailing Jamal Mayers along the wall in the Blackhawks’ zone. Officially, the hit was Horton’s second of the night, but it was certainly the first one that made an impact on the game.
Now Horton has to build off his 2011-12 coming-out party much the way he came to life last year in late January. There are few players more important to the Bruins’ attempt to repeat than Horton. Although, there’s a lot of hope that Seguin will break out this year as an offensive star in his second NHL season, there’s no telling if he might need more seasoning before he starts to routinely surpass 20 goals. Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand emerged as primetime scorers last season, but they don’t the type of track record yet to count on them for 20 or 30 goals this season.
It’s difficult to gauge just how much scoring the Bruins can count on getting from two-way forwards Patrice Bergeron and Rich Peverley. David Krejci, when healthy, still seems more content to be the set-up man instead of the finisher.
Horton, on the other hand, has scored at least 20 goals each of the last six seasons (including 26 in his first Bruins season in 2010-11). He has an offensive pedigree unlike any other Bruins. A drop-off in that type of production would put the Bruins in a hole offensively that they might not be able to dig out of.
Of course, Horton has to bring more than just goal-scoring. His rise into an unforgettable figure in Bruins history wasn’t just powered by those overtime goals in the postseason. There were also a handful of fights and plenty of battles won in the trenches that proved Horton was in fact a “power” forward.
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Although it’d be easy to jump to conclusions about Horton’s slow start and last year’s season-ending concussion, Horton’s slow start might not have had anything to do with any psychological remnants from the Aaron Rome hit. The concussion and a separated shoulder, plus the shortened post-championship summer, kept Horton from engaging in his usual offseason regimen. As a former member of the inept Florida Panthers, Horton had to learn what was life was like when your team actually makes the playoffs. So maybe the early-season slump was a purely a physical thing, which necessitated Horton to shake off some rust and get his juices flowing for a few games before he started to resemble the player he was last season and the Bruins need him to be.
The Bruins’ schedule over the next several weeks is unrelenting in terms of a lot of games in few nights. And the longer center David Krejci is out, the more the Bruins are going to need contributions from everyone. Horton’s production can’t be an every-five-games sort of contribution. Now that he got on the score sheet and asserted himself physically in Chicago, he needs to continue to be someone the Bruins can count on.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operates TheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.