Horton authors another timely goal to force OT

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Horton authors another timely goal to force OT

BOSTON -- All it took was health to revert Nathan Horton back to his clutch, game-winning ways.

The Bruins right winger racked up his third goal of the season at a perfect time with little more than four minutes to go in the third period, but seems to be a variation on a theme this year. Horton powered the only regulation goal for Boston in a 2-1 shootout win at TD Garden that was gritty, grinding and exactly the kind of heavyweight fight one expects between the Bruins and Devils.

It was the second time this season that Horton banged home the game-tying goal in the last five minutes of the third period after having just three of those total in eight NHL seasons.

The score was a breakthrough for a Bruins team that experienced difficulty finding open offensive space in a heavy game against the quality New Jersey club. True to form Boston's best players kept plugging until something broke for them.

Hortons goal also clinched that the winger has points in four straight games for the Bruins, and holds a very respectable five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in six games on his season ledger with the Black and Gold. The goal started with Krejci dipping deep into the B's defensive zone to lend support to Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg, and then the Bruins center turned up ice with speed.

Krejci hit Lucic with a pass in stride before the puck was dished back to him in the middle, and he found Horton moving to the net. The Bruins right wing pushed the puck between the five-hole opening in Johan Hedberg's for the score Boston had waited nearly 60 minutes to celebrate.

It was a great play by our linemates there, Looch Milan Lucic made a great pass to Krech David Krejci and Krech took everybody and left me wide open, said Horton. I just tried to get it to net, I just fanned on it but then it went in the right place.

I guess I shouldnt say that I actually missed my shot, but I did. It feels great to contribute and help the team, whether its anything, a hit. Im just trying to work hard and do the best I can and not let my teammates down.

Horton hasnt let one person down while playing tough, physical, productive hockey for the Bruins that makes him such a unique blend of physical power and streaky skill. He also had the only two shots on goal for his forward group, meaning both Lucic and Krejci finished without a single shot on net in 65 regulation minutes.

It was also only fitting the forward line of Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic were the ones to make it happen for the Bs in crunch time. After all those are some of the forwards that currently enjoy the multiple-game point streaks, and some have consistently been Bostons best skaters over the first six games.

I said it a million times already, this was a line that had a question mark on them because one guy hadnt played in a year and the other guy didnt play at all during the lockout, said Claude Julien. David Krejci was the only one having played. So being one of our top lines, you want to be able to rely on those guys. We have and theyve certainly given us exactly what we need right now.

It was a breakout shift for all three forwards where each of them touched the puck: Lucic skated it down the left wing side and centered a pass to Krejci streaking up the middle as the two-way center drew the attention of the New Jersey defense. The rush of the lines other two forwards allowed Krejci to feed Horton swooping in through the right face-off circle for the kind of chance a natural goal-scorer feeds on.

Knowing Hortons reputation as a Game 7 playoff hero and the clear evidence over the last six games that hes 100 percent back to his level of play prior to the concussions, there wasnt a question he would bury the shot. He did that just that by burying it between Hedberg's equipment.

With a guy with as much heart and leader on our team like Horty Nathan Horton is, seeing him do well really lifts everybody up, said Tyler Seguin. Hes definitely a true leader, so I think everyone here has a lot of confidence.

The Horton heroics allowed the Bruins to salvage at least a point by earning their way into overtime after trailing for most of the game, and it eventually pushed them to a full two points in the shootout victory.

None of that would have been possible without the help of Horton, who is ably playing the role of late-game hero for the Black and Gold while showing exactly how good he can be with Boston counting upon him.

Pastrnak on looming RFA status: 'I obviously love it here'

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Pastrnak on looming RFA status: 'I obviously love it here'

David Pastrnak will be a better player for some of his struggles in his first Stanley Cup playoff experience over the last couple of weeks.

The 20-year-old right winger might even be a better player from the experience for Team Czech Republic when he joins them next month for the world championships in Europe. Pastrnak did have a couple of goals in the six game series against the Ottawa Senators and it wasn’t a complete disaster for the youngster the first time around, but he also wasn’t quite up to the lofty standards he set this season when he posted 34 goals and 70 points.

“It was different, but to be honest I loved it. It hurt [to lose] but every win felt unbelievable,” said Pastrnak. “It was a great experience for me, and hopefully in the coming years I get to taste that feeling a lot more times. You always want to be the player that makes a difference, but at the NHL level it’s a good feeling no matter who the hero is.  

“Every year is a learning lesson especially for a young player like me. I’m pretty sure I’m going to come back stronger and get better every year. Obviously the year ended sooner than we wanted, but I did get that first taste of the playoffs after missing out in the first couple of years. It’s another experience and hopefully I get better every year.”

He had just a combined five shots on net in five of the six postseason games, and really only let loose with a big performance in the Game 5 double-overtime win. Otherwise it was sloppy turnovers with the puck against the 1-3-1 trap, a passive role in the offense where he missed the net far too often with the shots he did take and then an ill-timed penalty in overtime in Game 5 that led to the goal that ended their season.

The Bruins didn't shy away from the fact that Pastrnak looked like a first timer in his playoff experience, and expect the third year pro to be better for it the next time around. Clearly the banged-up status of David Krejci throughout the first round also had an impact on Pastrnak’s production and effectiveness as well.

“I think our playoffs, several players went through [the playoffs] for the first time and no matter what you say, until you have experience you don’t get it anywhere else, you’ve got to go through it. Hopefully we’ll be better off as a result of it,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Sitting with David Pastrnak [on Wednesday], that’s the first time he’s played an NHL playoff game. He’ll hopefully be a better player as a result of it. He had a tremendous regular season, but it’s the next level, it’s a new challenge. I thought the vast majority of our players really did a nice job.”

There’s the other situation facing Pastrnak and the Bruins with his entry level contract up after this season, and negotiations set to get underway between his agent and GM Don Sweeney on a second contract. A complete breakdown of the looming negotiations will be a different story for a different day with Pastrnak, but suffice it say that a 20-year-old is going to get paid after dropping 34 goals and 70 points in just his third NHL season.

On the short end of the spectrum one could have a comparable like Chicago’s Artemi Panarin with his two-year, $12 million deal if the two sides come together on a bridge deal, and a contract like Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (six-year, $40.5 million for a $6.75 million cap hit) if both sides are amenable to a longer deal that buys out some of the young Pastrnak’s unrestricted free agent years.

That leaves a lot of room in between to negotiate and a lot of time before the two sides would have to start worrying about offer sheets around July 1, or about a potential holdout next fall if things don’t go smoothly. Either way, pending restricted free agent Pastrnak left no doubt that he wants to remain a member of the Bruins and continue developing as one of the most exciting young offensive players in the NHL.

“100 percent. I obviously love it here. This is where they gave me the opportunity to be in the NHL. It’s not something I was focusing on all season, so I’m not really going to think about it now,” said Pastrnak, when asked about a deal getting done with the Bruins. “It’s not in my hands. It’s in the hands of management and my agent. Both sides have seen these situations a million times, so I’ll let them handle it.”

Pure skill players don’t come along all that often for the Bruins and now they’ve got one starting to become battle-hardened following his less-than-perfect playoff experience this spring. Now all they’ve got to do is find a way to sign him, and that’s a lot easier said than done as they continue to also try and improve the current NHL roster at the same time. 

McQuaid on going in the NHL expansion draft: ‘I hope that’s not the case for me’

McQuaid on going in the NHL expansion draft: ‘I hope that’s not the case for me’

BOSTON – With the NHL expansion draft looming a couple of months in the future, it became much more of a reality for the Bruins this week now that the 2016-17 season is in the books.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney said on Thursday that he expects the Bruins to go the 7 (forwards) 3 (defensemen) 1 (goaltender) route protecting their roster from the June 21 expansion draft. That will still leave some useful roster players unprotected.

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Atop that available expansion list for the Bruins will be potential names Malcolm Subban, Riley Nash, Jimmy Hayes and Adam McQuaid, who could be headed to Vegas. Asked about the topic at this week’s breakup day for the players, McQuaid expressed his hopes that he isn’t the one selected by the Vegas Golden Knights. The 30-year-old McQuaid stayed healthy enough to play in 77 games this season, and posted two goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 while serving in a top-four role pretty much all season as Torey Krug’s defensive partner.

McQuaid also brought the toughness and quiet leadership element with his willingness to always stand up for his teammates and go toe-to-toe with the toughest guys in the league when it was called for. His midseason heavyweight bout with Matt Martin was one of the most memorable moments of the season. It’s an element the Bruins would miss if he was taken in the expansion draft.  

“Well, I hope not. I never thought of it that way, to be honest with you. Obviously, the reality of the situation is they’re picking somebody from every team,” said McQuaid. “So, I hope that’s not the case for me. I’ve won here and I’ve always said how much I love it back here. I can’t imagine playing for another team. It’s totally out of my control, but hopefully that’s not the case.”

McQuaid is signed for $2.75 million for the next seasons and it was clear he was missed on the penalty kill once he went down injured in the first-round series against the Ottawa Senators. As for the entire expansion process, Sweeney said they are currently whittling down the protected list while required to protect Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and David Backes to start by virtue of the no-movement language in their contracts.

Other young players, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Frank Vatrano among others, don’t need to be protected either after completing this season with two years or less of pro hockey experience. One of the most difficult decisions will come down to protecting either 25-year-old Colin Miller or 28-year-old Kevan Miller as the third defensemen. 

Whichever one of those D-men is left unprotected would join McQuaid as the most likely player to be selected by Vegas GM George McPhee after he spent a decent amount of time scouting the Black and Gold this season to get an idea of which player he wanted.

Here’s our best guess at which players will end up being protected by the Bruins:

Forwards (7): Bergeron, Krejci, Backes, Pastrnak, Marchand, Beleskey and Spooner

Defensemen (3): Chara, Krug and Colin Miller

Goaltender (1): Rask