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

Marchand: Selection to Canada World Cup 'on a different level'

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Marchand: Selection to Canada World Cup 'on a different level'

Bruins left wing Brad Marchand definitely altered a lot of people’s perceptions about him as a hockey player when he scored 37 goals this season, and embraced more of a leadership role on a B’s team getting younger by the year. The B’s agitator started to reap the rewards of those changed opinions with a gold medal at the IIHF World Championships in Russia earlier this month, and on Friday with his inclusion on a ridiculously talented Team Canada roster set for the NHL and NHLPA-organized World Cup of Hockey in the fall.

Marchand will join linemate Patrice Bergeron and head coach Claude Julien as part of the Team Canada contingent, and could even be part of a reunited Marchand-Bergeron-Tyler Seguin line if Mike Babcock and Co. are looking for instant chemistry.

Either way Marchand was excited about suiting up for his country, and being part of a World Cup tournament that will include Bruins players Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, David Pastrnak, David Krejci (who may not be available to play due to his hip surgery), Loui Eriksson and Dennis Seidenberg along with the Team Canada contingent.

“It’s an incredible honor to play for Team Canada. It’s something that I think we all take a lot of pride in, and something that is…it’s not an easy accomplishment,” said Marchand. “It’s not something you get to do very often, and to have that opportunity twice this year is very special and it’s not something I take for granted

“I think being part of a team like this is on a different level, and people may give a little more respect to that fact and may look at more of the kind of player I am, other than just the stuff they’ve seen in the past, with the hits and being a pest and stuff like that. Maybe those people will realize that I’m an OK hockey player, and I do play the game as well. But regardless, that’s not why I play the game. I play it to help our team win and just because I love the game, so however they feel, then that’s their opinion. But [earning more respect league-wide] is a possibility.”

This is the fifth time Marchand has been selected to compete for his home country of Canada in international play. The 5-foot-9, 181-pound forward tallied four goals and three assists in 10 games while helping Canada earn a gold medal at the aforementioned 2016 IIHF Men’s World Championships, held earlier this month in Russia. Marchand previously won gold with Team Canada at the U-20 World Championships in 2007 and 2008. He also earned a bronze medal with Team Canada Atlantic at the 2005 World U-17 Hockey Challenge.

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey will take place from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, 2016 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, home of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. The two-week tournament, featuring eight teams comprised of more than 150 of the best players in the NHL, will progress from the Preliminary Round to the Semifinals and ultimately the Final. 

The involvement of so many Bruins players along with Julien will make for a spare NHL camp in Boston come September with so many important pieces out for what is traditionally the first two weeks of camp. 

Haggerty's Morning Skate: Phil Kessel emotional about reaching Stanlery Cup Final

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Haggerty's Morning Skate: Phil Kessel emotional about reaching Stanlery Cup Final

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while picking the San Jose Sharks over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.

 

*Patrick Lalime hopped on sports radio in Ottawa, and said the Chris Phillips/Zdeno Chara defense pairing was the best he ever played behind.

 

*Don Cherry had a major problem with Steven Stamkos suiting up and playing in the losing Game 7 to the Penguins.

 

*Phil Kessel gets pretty emotional about finally getting to the Stanley Cup Final after years of struggle in Toronto.

 

*USA Today’s Kevin Allen says the gap between the No. 1 goaltender and the backup isn’t what it used to be.

 

*Speaking the Sharks, the trip back to Pittsburgh for the Cup Final brings back memories for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

 

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) writer has the news about Dustin Brown getting stripped of the captaincy with the LA Kings.

 

*Bryan Rust was in the AHL to start this season, but much like Mike Sullivan and Matt Murray he killed it for the Penguins in the playoffs.

 

*For something completely different: It’s official that moving Jackie Bradley Jr. in the lineup wasn’t what killed his hitting streak.