CHICAGO (CBS) – There are great players, and then there are players who are great at the most important moments.
There’s no doubt Nathan Horton possesses tons of talent. He was the third overall pick in the NHL Draft in 2003 and he’s scored more than 20 goals six times in his NHL career.
For the second time in three seasons, however, Horton is rewriting his legacy as more than just a high-skill guy, more than just a go-to scorer, but as a postseason hero.
Horton enters the Stanley Cup Final with 17 points in 16 games this postseason. His plus-21 leads the entire NHL. And the more he’s helped the Bruins win, the more glaring his absence from the lineup for last season’s short playoff run has become.
“For sure [we missed him],” Bruins center Chris Kelly said about Horton at media day at United Center Tuesday. “He’s such a big part of our team. I’ve always said the definition of a team, every part fits and everyone works together. It seems when the team’s doing well, everyone’s doing well. And when the team’s not doing well, it’s everyone, it’s not just a few guys. Really missing Nate last year, that’s a big hole to fill.”
Prior to getting knocked out of the finals in 2011 with a concussion in Game 3, Horton had 17 points (8 goals) in 21 games for the Stanley Cup champs. Without Horton, the Bruins were beaten by Washington in 7 games in the first round in 2012. Horton has picked up in 2013 where he left off in 2011, and now he’s hoping he’ll make it through the entire series with the Blackhawks so he can thoroughly enjoy it.
“It’s definitely special for me to be back, being able to really have fun with it, enjoy it,” he said. “It was tough that year, not to be a part of it. But everybody wants to be on the ice. They want to enjoy, work for it. I never got a chance to do that. Obviously with [missing] the playoffs last year, it’s why I play. I know I really want to enjoy it this time, have a lot of fun.”
As long as Horton keeps producing at his current pace, he and the Bruins will enjoy the series and maybe the party will continue into summer.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.