BOSTON -- @font-facefont-family: "Times New Roman";p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormalmargin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; table.MsoNormalTablefont-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; div.Section1page: Section1; Clutch doesnt always get you the Bruins player of thegame jacket.
Just ask Nathan Horton.
The Bruins top-line winger sat behind a microphone on theelevated postgame stage at the TD Garden on Wednesday, wearing Bostons vintagewindbreaker thats given to the deserving player after each game.
Horton deserved it on this night, for sure, after scoringthe game-winning goal in overtime and giving the Bruins a 4-3 win in Game 7 and a4-3 opening-round playoff victory over the MontrealCanadiens.
But he also could have received it on Saturday night, asHorton gave the Bruins a 3-2 series lead after knocking home a loose puck inovertime of Game 5 at the TD Garden.
Goaltender Tim Thomas deserved it on that night, accordingto Horton. As a result, Horton got his hands on the jacket for the firsttime, following his overtime heroics in Game 7.
And nobody had any complaints about the decision.
Its awesome, said Thomas after the dramatic win. I saidlast time, it couldnt happen to a nicer guy. But hes making a name forhimself as a big-game player, and thats great to see. For a guy who has neverhad the opportunity to play in the playoffs, hes making a reputation. Wewouldnt have won this series without him.
Horton had two goals in the series heading into Game 7. Butas big a piece as hes been to the team thus far in the playoffs, he had zero shots on netentering overtime on Wednesday night.
His first shot came 5:43 into that overtime. And he made itcount.
Horton was covering the right point, as Adam McQuaid pincheddown into the right corner, and then he switched with Zdeno Chara into the highslot. That's where Horton took a pass from Milan Lucic.
Horton ripped his first shot of the game, and theblistering slapper ended up in the right corner of the net, clinching theseries for the Bruins.
It was pretty nice, said Horton. It felt pretty good. Idont remember too much, but I remember Lucic going up with the puck, and Ijust tried to get open and come towards the net . . . It was pretty special,again. It doesnt get any better.
No it doesnt. Not for a 25-year old who spent the first sixNHL seasons in Florida, without a single game of playoff hockey.
Hortons getting his first taste of the postseason now, andhes beginning to show many that hes not feeling any type of playoff pressure.
Obviously, when you score two overtime goals in a series,you understand how big a piece of the puzzle this guys been for our hockeyclub, said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the Game 7 win. I thought he hada really good start the first month of the regular season, and then he cooleddown a little bit. But what I saw from Nathan, from the half-point on until theend, is a guy who really became a lot more consistent in his game, hispreparation was good. Whether he scored or not, he was battling, he playedhard.
I think hes really grown a lot in the second half, andthen right now, scoring those two big goals. I mean, hes been saving it forseven years, right? So he had a lot of winning goals in him.
Horton is in his seventh NHL season. He was acquired in anoffseason trade for the sole purpose of putting the puck in the net.
There were times during the regular season when it wasfrustrating to watch his dry spells. For that, and a 1-goal-in-20-games stretchbefore the All-Star break, Horton drew his critics. They were the same criticshe had while he was with the Panthers, calling him out for his disappearingacts.
In just seven playoff games, hes made himself quitenoticeable on three occasions. Two were after game-winners in overtime againstthe Montreal Canadiens.
Im really enjoying it, said Horton about his firstplayoff series. Every day is exciting. Every day is a new day, but it feelsgood, definitely.
"I could get used to this, you know, continued winning. Thatswhat its all about.
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.