BOSTON Reality is setting in for the Bruins that theyve lost their Game 7 hero, Nathan Horton, for the rest of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Horton was released from Massachusetts General Hospital on Tuesday after suffering a severe concussion when he was rocked by a late hit from Aaron Rome in Game 3 Monday night, and the Bruins now have the unenviable task of replacing their No. 1 right wing. While the Bruins have better depth at the forward position than they did last season, it doesnt take too many brain cells to remember last years offensively-challenged bunch in the year in between Phil Kessel and Horton.
Horton finished with 34 goals in 101 games spread out over the regular season and playoffs, and that's something the Bruins simply cant pick up and replace with one single player. Worst of all, the 26-year-old had blossomed into an ice-water-veined playoff performer, becoming the only NHL player in Stanley Cup history to pot a pair of Game 7 game-winning goals in the same playoff run.
Though Horton had been scoreless against the Canucks after appearing to bang his knee in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last round, he was still one of the team's best offensive threats.
I thought his second half of the season was really good, said coach Claude Julien. His compete level was extremely good game in, game out, played with an edge, which a lot of people said he wasn't capable of doing. He showed that on a regular basis."
Julien added: We just lost a real important part of our hockey team.
Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley both alternated shifts on right wing in the second and third period in Hortons absence, and they are the two main candidates to potentially take up residency on the top line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
Peverley brings speed and some offensive creativity to the first line if hes the choice, but it would appear Ryder would be the more logical choice given his similarity to Horton in terms of skill set. Like Horton, he has a deadly shot and the ability to heat up during the playoffs.
Consider Ryder a smaller, less physical version of Horton around the net, but just as deadly with his snap shot. In all Ryder has 15 goals and 32 points in 45 career postseason games with the Bruins, and he could certainly find a way to channel his goal-scorer's touch with Bostons top forwards.
Ryder didnt know or didnt want to admit to knowing the plan for Game 3, but he knows more will be asked of him with Horton out.
Horty is a big part of our team. He's been huge for us all season in the playoffs, said Ryder. We're definitely going to miss him. I'm not sure what is going to happen. I played with Krejci before and with Lucic on and off at times. Yeah, I feel comfortable there. I'm not sure what Claude has planned.
But if I get put in that position, I'll have to step it up and make sure I help those guys out as much as I can. I'm not Nathan Horton, but I can try to do what I can out there.
If Ryder falters or goes through one of his sleepy stretches, then Peverley would be the other easy choice to pair with the two remaining members of Bostons No. 1 line.
With Horton and Ryder likely lining up on the right side, Lucic took the set of circumstances as another clarion call to arms. The Bruins need Lucic to morph into the dominant power forward he was all regular season when he scored 30 goals, and now would be the perfect time for it to happen. Hes jumped in and out of effectiveness through the playoffs, but Lucic knows there are only four games left to empty the entire tank.
Its an opportunity for someone to step up and we need someone to step up. Nathan has been one of our best players and we still have to go out there and focus on what we need to do to have some success, said Lucic. Its tough. Its a big loss. Hes been a huge contributor to us getting to this point. He was a big reason I was able to take my game to another level and now Im going to have to step up without him.
Ryder and Peverley are both great players. Peverley last year had 55 points, so hes shown that he can produce in this league. Ryder has scored 30 goals a couple of times and hes scored almost 150 goals in this league, so hes proven that he can score. They both have good shots and know how to compete and play. We have to count on them to step it up and fill in for what were missing with Nathan.
The second set of dominoes in the Horton chain reaction will be a possible reunion of the Chris KellyTyler SeguinPeverley trio on the third line a combination with speed and offensive upside that would have to bear down to win battles against Vancouvers sandpaper third line.
With Horton gone now, there's a pretty good chance you're going to see Seguin in the lineup again. He's a good player for us. Yesterday was a tough decision to make him a healthy scratch, said Julien.
The lineup changes would seem to be obvious ones for the Bs coaching staff with Horton no longer an option, but that doesnt mean it will be easy to replace a power forward with a scorers touch. Bostons job gets much tougher against the Canucks without Horton in the trenches, and it will truly be a group effort for the Black and Gold if theyre able to pull things out after their first catastrophic injury of the postseason.