TAMPA – Claude Julien loved what he saw out of Nathan Horton against Tampa Bay in his best game of the season.
The Bruins coach liked it so much he left the right winger out on the ice with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley in the closing seconds with an empty net so Horton could go for his third career hat trick. Alas Horton came up just short when he rang the right post twice in the final minute while scrambling to shoot at the open net, but that still didn’t change the power forward’s yeoman effort in a 4-2 win for the Bruins over the Lightning at the Tampa Tribune Forum.
“It really doesn’t matter,” said Horton about the hat trick. “We won the game so everyone’s happy and that’s what matters most.”
Horton did finish off two of Boston’s four goals and set the tone with his score just 71 seconds into the first period. The right winger jumped all over the rebound of a Dougie Hamilton point shot and flipped the puck into the vacant net, and prevented the Bolts from taking an early lead and dropping into their infamous 1-3-1 trap.
Horton said he’s been fooling around with his sticks lately and maybe he’ll keep that up.
“My sticks have been breaking so I’ve been fooling around with the curve a little bit,” said Horton, with a smile. “I’m trying to keep it fun and keep it interesting. I’ll probably do the same thing in the next time and try to get the same curve.”
But Horton didn’t stop there. Reunited with Milan Lucic and David Krejci after their left winger partner missed last weekend’s win over the Winnipeg Jets due to personal reasons, all three were flying. Horton led all skaters with six shots on net, Lucic was pounding bodies with a game-high six registered hits and Krejci was controlling possessions down low with his smart cycling game.
The Patrice Bergeron line produced the middle two goals in the victory, and then Horton capped things off with an insurance score that cinched the game in the third period. The Bruins had just killed off a Zdeno Chara roughing penalty and established possession in the offensive zone. The Bruins skillfully and quickly worked the puck around the perimeter until Chara ripped a slap pass directed straight at Horton in the left face-off circle. Horton redirected the Chara pass perfectly into the net and Tampa Bay was down and out on the canvas with little hope of coming back.
The goal gives Horton 26 goals and 46 points in 45 career games against the Lightning, the bulk of which he played as a member of the neighboring Florida Panthers.
Horton didn’t bag the empty net goal after being out on the ice for the last minute plus with Anders Lindback pulled from the cage, but that didn’t stop his coach from flowing with the praise postgame.
That was after a little good natured chirping from the coach, of course.
“[The finish] was there, but Horts couldn’t finish his hat trick,” said Claude Julien. “You looked at both of Horton’s goals and he really shot it hard with some purpose behind it. We need more of that.
“He was good. That’s what you want to see out of him. He’s that powerful winger when he wants to play. He’s one of the elite right wingers in the league when he’s on top of his game. He’s got so much potential and we know it. He’s gone through some tough times with the concussion, but hopefully we have him back healthy with some consistency in his game. He deserves it.”
The six goals scored for Horton put him second on the team behind the surprising Brad Marchand, and – hat trick or no hat trick – it’s pretty clear the right winger is well on his way to proving that he’s a healthy and productive player for the Black and Gold this season.