CHICAGO — In a 14-game stretch spanning February and March, Nathan Horton failed to score a goal in 13 games. The slump suggested that Horton might not be welcome back in Boston after this season.
In retrospect, games in those months do not accurately reflect Horton’s value. In two of his three seasons as a Bruin, Horton has punched the turbochargers during the playoffs. His postseason presence may be too significant for the Bruins not to bring back.
Horton enters the Stanley Cup Final as the Bruins’ second-leading playoff scorer behind David Krejci. Horton has seven goals and 10 assists, just 4 points off Krejci’s 9-12—21 pace. Horton leads the club with three game-winning goals.
This postseason tear is not out of character. In 2011, Horton shredded Montreal, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay for eight goals and nine assists. He scored the overtime winner in Game 7 against Montreal and had the only goal in Game 7 against Tampa Bay.
In Game 3 of the Final against Vancouver, Aaron Rome knocked Horton out of the playoffs with a severe concussion. The Bruins rallied after Horton’s injury.
Before the Bruins acquired Horton from Florida on June 22, 2010, the right wing had never appeared in a playoff game. He had played in 422 regular-season games for the Panthers.
“It’s a lot of fun when the games mean the most,” Horton said. “It’s a man’s game out there right now. I’m just enjoying it.
“It’s fun to be a part of after not being able to be a part of it for I don’t know how many years. Actually getting a feel of it and a taste of it, it’s something you don’t want to let go.
“But you want to work hard at it, because there’s no better feeling than being here right now.”
Horton, Krejci, and Milan Lucic have combined to form a powerful top line. Through three rounds, they have logged 19 goals and 32 assists. In the first round, Toronto matched Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson against Patrice Bergeron’s line. But because the first line was rolling, Phaneuf and Gunnarsson switched to skate against Krejci’s unit.
In the second round, the Rangers tried to have either Ryan McDonagh or Dan Girardi against Krejci. Pittsburgh rolled out Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin against the No. 1 line. Chicago will most likely deploy its top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to neutralize the Lucic-Krejci-Horton threesome.
“I’m playing with two great players,” Horton said. “They both do so much on the ice. Dave is having a great playoffs. Looch is, too. He may not have as many points as Dave, but he creates so much on the ice with the way he plays.”
Horton, who will be an unrestricted free agent at year’s end, is in the final season of a six-year, $24 million contract. This could be the 28-year-old’s final swipe at a big-bucks deal. Horton’s concussion history — the 2010 jolt from Rome, plus last year’s season-ending head injury caused by Tom Sestito — will prompt him to seek security. If Horton reaches UFA status, the right wing could earn at least a $1 million annual raise.
Horton is not the Bruins’ first priority. They must first re-sign Tuukka Rask, who could double his $3.5 million salary. If the Bruins want to re-sign Horton, options include placing Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve or shedding salary via trade. Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, and Johnny Boychuk would be trade candidates.
Horton said he’s not thinking about his contract, and that he would prefer to stay in Boston.
“Everybody that’s here wants to stay here,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. We enjoy each other. It’s more fun when you have success. We’ve had it. We want to continue.”
Lucic is an East Vancouver native. Seabrook hails from Richmond, a Vancouver suburb. Lucic was teammates with Keith Seabrook, Brent’s younger brother, on the Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League.
“We’ve been out a few times together in Vancouver,” Seabrook said. “He’s my brother’s age, so he’s a lot closer with my brother, but we’ve hung out and done some things, some golf tournaments and whatnot.”
As a right-side defenseman, Seabrook will likely line up against Lucic on most shifts.
Surgery for Campbell
Gregory Campbell underwent surgery on his broken right leg Monday at Massachusetts General Hospital. Campbell suffered the injury last Wednesday blocking an Evgeni Malkin slap shot in Game 3 vs. Pittsburgh . . . General manager Peter Chiarelli acknowledged that the Bruins discussed swapping Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for Jiri Tlusty instead of Rask in 2006 . . . The Bruins practiced at TD Garden Tuesday morning prior to leaving for Chicago. They did not make any lineup changes in practice. Healthy scratches for Game 1 should be Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Wade Redden, Aaron Johnson, Jay Pandolfo, Carl Soderberg, and Jordan Caron . . . The Blackhawks have a Lucic clone in Bryan Bickell. The 6-foot-4-inch, 233-pound left wing enters the series with eight goals and five assists. “I have to keep my feet moving and finish my checks when they’re there,” Bickell said. “I feel when I do that, it gets me, it gets my team, and it gets the fans into it. When I finish my checks, it lifts me up to where I need to be.”