Horton's mean streak just what Bruins need

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Horton's mean streak just what Bruins need

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

There were moments during the middle of the long, monotonous hockey season when Nathan Horton didnt seem to be much more than a bigger, slightly more enigmatic version of Michael Ryder.

That seemed to be the case when he endured much of December and January mired in a stretch of 20 games with only one goal, and exhibited little emotional spark while the Bruins attempted to breathe life into Marc Savards game alongside Horton at the center spot.

There may have been some connection between Hortons slump and Savards struggles to find his game before another concussion knocked him out for good, but there was also little fire in Hortons belly at that point.

That has changed into a raging belly inferno since the All-Star break with Horton growing the snarling attitude and willingness to intimidate thats such an integral part of the Bruins collective team personality. He hasnt talked as much lately before and after games, but hes letting his speaking on the ice tell the bone-rattling story.

Id like to stand here and say I know whats going to happen in the playoffs, but well have to wait and see, said Claude Julien, asked what he was expecting out of Horton once the postseason bell dings. But hes come around in the second half of the year. His whole attitude and approach to the game has gotten better and better. I have no doubt in my mind that hes going to be fine.

Hes playing with an attitude, and that attitude has been with him for a while now. You saw Horton today in a game that a lot of people would have called a meaningless game. Im not worried about him. I think hes ready and excited for the playoffs.

Julien hypothesized it might be that Horton is finally adjusting to the Boston environment or growing into his role with the right kind of organization, and that he sees it with a quality Bruins team.

Horton seemed to say the exact same thing after crashing, banging and scoring out on the ice to lead the Bruins to a 3-1 victory over the Senators at TD Garden.

To play 80 games here in Boston, where hockey is the world its been a special year for me, said Horton. Ive enjoyed it. Theres some downs and some ups, and Im looking to continue the ups. I think everyone is here.

It seems Horton really started to see it when he knocked out Edmonton Oilers forward Theo Peckham with one right-handed haymaker at Rexall Place while also notching a goal, and Horton has continued ramping up for the playoffs with that attitude ever since.

Its not always about scoring. Its about being THERE and being in the play and being involved, and hard to play against, said Horton, stressing the there part of his thoughtful sentence. All the little stuff that really matters, thats what its all about. Its nice to score and its nice to help your team out. But when youre not doing that, youve got to do something to help your team. Thats what Im trying to do, and thats what Ill continue to do.

Its allowed Horton to pile up 14 goals and 25 points in his last 30 games, and paved the way for his game-winning power play goal and the extended round of fisticuffs with Zack Smith in Bostons victory over the Sens. Hortons 26th strike of the season on Saturday afternoon was a little bit of big-bodied perfection as he and Milan Lucic camped around the net, and the right wing simply pounced on a Zdeno Chara rebound near the left post.

Horton couldnt corral the puck for a quick forehand wrist snap, but calmly collected it for a backhand before flicking it into the open net little more than a minute into the second period.

It seemed to be meaningless game No. 81 of the season with the Bs playoff situation secure, but it was clearly important to goaltender Tim Thomas shooting for the NHL record for save percentage in a season.

It shouldnt have been important to Horton, but he played like Mark Recchi or Chara had already whispered in his ear that playoffs had begun.

The Horton fists started flying directly in front of the Boston bench, and Julien admitted the violent nature of the uppercuts and roundhouse rights concerned him with the playoffs only five days away.

Smith got the best of Horton in the opening seconds of the fight, but Horton kept throwing bombs rather than hugging and heading off to the penalty box. That was a pretty good indication the quit button no longer exists in Hortons game.

It happened right in front of me and I wasnt moving much and saying hopefully this ends soon and they go their own way, said Julien of a violent skirmish that left Horton with bumps and bruises along with a bloodied nose after the game. You cant take away the attitude and the approach hes had to the game. Hes playing with a burr and give him credit for that.

I didnt want to take that away from him.

One astute commenter on a Bruins message board said that there isnt a lot of Sunrise in Hortons game these days a pithy allusion to Hortons career of underachievement with a Panthers team that never made it to the playoffs.

That seems to be completely by design as Horton is recreating himself into the player everyone around him thought hed always be: a 6-foot-2, 225-pound pile of furious hockey rage on the ice with an easygoing smile and unending supply of politeness off it.

Four of Hortons seven fighting majors have taken place since the victory over the Oilers 20 games ago, and the smoldering fire has also manifested itself into a healthy intensity within his own dressing room.

Less than two weeks ago Horton sensed there was a tad too much sleepiness at a practice session following a loss, and authored resounding hits on Patrice Bergeron and Dennis Seidenberg in the corner to help intensify the drowsy proceedings.

It worked that afternoon and its been working over the last two plus months for Horton and the Bruins.

That leaves only one question: will it keep working for Horton and the Bruins in the playoffs once the lights come on?

It appears the 25-year-old isnt going to leave any of that up to chance, and is stepping away from the passivity thats dogged his hockey game in the past.

The nasty, mean and angry Horton is all over the ice these days throwing punches, trading shoves and lighting lamps, and thats exactly the guy Boston needs now that a pivotal playoff run is on the doorstep.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins know they 'have to go all in' vs. Islanders to control playoff fate

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Bruins know they 'have to go all in' vs. Islanders to control playoff fate

BROOKLYN, NY – The Bruins woke up on Saturday morning and found themselves out of the playoff picture for the first time in months by virtue of the one game in hand the New York Islanders have over the Black and Gold.

That makes Saturday night’s tilt against the Isles at the Barclays Center all the more important. A win will put the Bruins back into the lead for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and a loss would further drop them out of the playoff picture. It’s the biggest game of the season for the Bruins made that much grander in scale because Tuukka Rask is suddenly out with a lower body injury, and the Bruins will need a superior effort to snap a four game losing streak that has them teetering on the brink of playoff oblivion.

With all this swirling around, the Bruins know they can seize control of their playoff destiny with a win that will send them spinning off in the right direction. A loss will…well, that’s something the B’s don’t even want to entertain at this point after collapsing down the stretch in each of the last two seasons.

“With where we’re at right now, we can’t have any moral victories. Now it’s about doing the job and bearing down. We have to go all in tonight and have a big game. Hopefully the guys understand how important of a game it is and we have a big night,” said Brad Marchand. “I think we’re all excited. This is when we love to play when the game means so much, and it has a playoff feel. We’re fighting for our lives right now. It’s a great mood in the room, so hopefully we have a big bounce back.”

While the big picture can’t possibly be ignored given what’s happened with the Bruins this week, Bruce Cassidy also cautioned that simply viewing Saturday night as a two-point game was the best technique for success. Otherwise things could become overwhelming and packed with too much pressure when it should be something the Bruins are embracing rather than dreading.

“I hope our guys are creating some positive energy out there. This time of year you just need to have that mindset that it’s one game at a time,” said Cassidy. “You don’t look back, and you stay in the moment. That’s the message that gets conveyed to the group and for the most part they’ve done a good job with that. We just need to play our game and play it well.

“I truly believe they’ll bounce back. They didn’t have their best on Thursday and I think we’ve addressed that game. I believe they’ll take a lot of pride in their game tonight. Your leaders need to lead and your followers need to follow, and that’s a recipe for success for most teams. We’re no different and I expect that to be the case [against the Islanders].”

On the other side of the coin, it will be look out below if the Bruins drop a fifth straight game and continue a downward spiral as the Leafs, Lightning and Islanders are seem to be hitting their late season stride at the same time. 

Khudobin happy to step in for Rask in an 'important game'

Khudobin happy to step in for Rask in an 'important game'

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Bruins' original plan was for Anton Khudobin to get one out of the four big games with playoff implications this week, so the fact he’s starting Saturday night vs. the Islanders in a do-or-die game is in keeping with that plan. 

But the 30-year-old Khudobin couldn’t have been planning on making the start vs. the Isles after the Bruins lost the first three games this week vs. Toronto, Ottawa and Tampa Bay, and have lost four in a row in regulation overall.

All of that changed on Friday when Tuukka Rask determined he couldn’t play due to a lower body issue. That leaves the Bruins backup goaltender preparing to start in the biggest game of the regular season. 

Coach Bruce Cassidy said there would still have been a discussion about going with Khudobin tonight based on the way things had gone for Rask over the past four games, but it would have been bold going with the backup over a theoretically healthy No. 1 goalie.

“It would have been a conversation to have with [Rask] based on his physical well-being. He’s not used to the workload, but at this time of year that’s just what happens sometimes,” said Cassidy of Rask, who had started three games in four days before tonight’s DNP. “It would have been a conversation. We were considering Anton for a game this week, and it just so happens that it worked out to be [against the Islanders].”

It’s a good thing that Khudobin has won his past four games  and is playing his best hockey of the season. He said he's determined to be at his best despite his last start coming 10 days ago in Calgary.

“We don’t know what’s going on there [with Tuukka], so I’m just taking it day-by-day,” said Khudobin, who has a solid .916 save percentage in his past five appearances for the Black and Gold. “I’m not thinking too far ahead. It’s always great to play. It’s a really important game, and it’s the time of year where every point is really important.

“I’ve played pretty good and the guys have played really well in front of me. We’ve gotten the wins, so that’s the most important thing. When you get the wins, of course, it always feels really good.”

The Bruins showed a lot of faith in Khudobin signing him to a two-year deal on July 1 to be Rask’s backup. For most of this season he struggled badly in that role while going back and forth to Providence. Still, all of that will be forgotten if Khudobin can battle and compete his way to winning against the Islanders and help stabilize a Bruins team that looks headed for another late-season fall amid a four-game losing streak.