Two years ago, Nathan Horton etched his name into Bruins' playoff lore.
After coming from the Florida Panthers during the 2010 offseason, Horton entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in his career. Despite having no prior postseason experience, the former first round pick did not disappoint.
How well did Horton perform? In the first round against the Montreal Canadiens, the ex-Panther came through in the clutch scoring a double overtime winner in Game 5. Two games later, Horton gave the Bruins their first Game 7 win in 17 years when he delivered the "shot heard 'round Causeway Street" in overtime. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Horton scored the game’s only goal past Dwayne Roloson to lift the Black and Gold to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 21 years.
But Horton has not returned to the postseason since he took a vicious hit to the head from Aaron Rome in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks. He also missed the entire 2012 series against the Washington Capitals due to another concussion.After missing the last five games of the 2013 season due to an upper-body injury, Horton returned to the ice during Tuesday's practice skating along with fellow linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Head coach Claude Julien confirmed after Wednesday’s morning skate that Horton is a game-time decision for Game 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"He practiced for the first time with the team today, and we'll see how is tomorrow before we make that decision," said the sixth year Bruins coach on Tuesday. "I thought he was playing well before he was pulled out of the [Penguins] game. Since then I think he's really been excited about coming back. He skated well today, so right now, if he's good to go, I hope to see the same player that left the ice."
His sighting the last two days is encouraging for Bruins fans, and Horton is chomping at the bit for a playoff return.
"Going through it and sitting out last year [against the Caps], this is the time of year that you do want to play," said Horton. "The season was hard on everyone this year, playing every other night for most of the year. But you can play every night in the playoffs and you can still be up for the game, because that's the way it is and I'm excited to be back in it."
One wonders what could have been had Horton laced up the skates during last year's postseason. The team struggled to score goals and fans could tell that Lucic and Krejci really missed Horton's presence.
Now that Horton is skating again after his fight with Jarome Iginla on April 20th, the veteran is eager to step on the ice and contribute.
"It means a lot to me and it means a lot to everyone," Horton said. "We're just looking forward to the new season, the playoffs and this is where we need to be at our best.
"I'm ready. I want to help out. I want to be a contributor. It wasn't fun to watch the playoffs last year, and it will be nice to have another long run again."
He heard quite a few "woo's" in his only postseason appearance. But Bruins fans would certainly like to see similar production from Nathan Horton and hear a clip of Ric Flair's famous whoop at TD Garden.
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