Horton, Lucic revitalized in Boston

Bruins forward Milan Lucic (left) celebrates with teammate Nathan Horton after scoring against...

Bruins forward Milan Lucic (left) celebrates with teammate Nathan Horton after scoring against Coyotes in Prague on October 10, 2010. (DAVID W. CERNY/Reuters)

PAT MARTIN, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 12:06 PM ET

Boston Bruins power forwards Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic are as intimidating a pair of first-line wingers as there is in the NHL right now.

Both are big, strong and fast, and both are producing for their team.

"We feed off each other, me and him, and I think that's why we have been such a good line pairing so far," Lucic told The Sports Network.

But heading into the 2010-2011 season, there were question marks about both players.

Could the 25-year-old Horton shake the label of career underachiever, a player who showed flashes of potential but was prone to taking shifts off? Could the 22-year-old Lucic rebound from an injury-plagued season in 2009-2010 and become the consistent producer his team needs him to be?

The early signs are promising. Through 16 games, Horton has eight goals and 15 points to lead the Bruins, while Lucic is right behind him with seven goals and 14 points.

Horton, who was the third overall pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2003 draft, claims he had a tough time getting up for games in the Sunshine State because of the lack of fan interest in the team, as well as the grind of playing for a perennial loser.

"Most of the time I tried not to take the shifts off [in Florida], but like I said, sometimes it was hard to play," Horton said. "It was tough. I'm not trying to take shifts off but people said that, and it stayed with me. I'm trying to get through it but [the reputation] still won't leave me."

Horton averaged under 24 goals during his first six seasons in the NHL in front of sparse crowds for a team that couldn't make the playoffs in Florida, which he says wore on him.

"Every year they'd say it's going to get better, and year after year it was kind of the same thing," Horton said. "It was tough. Some days were really tough to go to the rink. Losing all the time isn't fun."

But since being traded this offseason to Boston with forward Greg Campbell for defenseman Dennis Wideman and first and third-round draft picks, Horton appears poised for bigger and better things.

"I was just looking for a change and I'm just happy to be here and I'm trying not to take anything off and just work hard every day in practice and in games," he said.

So far, he's lived up to that goal.

"He's been excited every time we have gone out there on the ice," Lucic said.

"He's been a good asset to our team," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He's a big, strong forward that can handle himself along the boards and can score some goals."

Horton doesn't remember the last time he had as much fun as he's having on the ice, with the change in scenery appearing to give him the shot in the arm he needed.

"It's nice to play in front of hockey fans," he said. "Fans that go to the rink in Boston know hockey and know what's going on. They cheer on their team, and it's just exciting to be here. It's just a great atmosphere. It's a little bit different than in Florida. It has been fun."

Horton is proving just how determined he is to shake the label he earned in Florida.

"We have a guy who's come in here who has been really excited to be part of our team and would love to be part of a playoff situation," Julien said. "So he's come out and played really well for us. The goal scorer that we kind of missed last season has appeared in him. We just hope that continues."

Julien also hopes Lucic can stay as healthy and productive as Boston anticipated when it extended his contract through the 2012-2013 season with a cap hit of over $4 million per.

"Lucic has gotten off to a real good start to the season, something that he couldn't do last season because he had two major injuries [finger and ankle] that slowed him down," Julien said.

The Vancouver native scored just nine goals and 20 points in 50 games last season.

"I feel like I'm back to my full form, and being healthy is a big reason for it," Lucic said. "Just being able to skate the way I'm used to skating has been a huge help in my game and a positive thing for me. That's the main reason for my success this season."

Skating and hitting are integral parts of the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder's game, and those have been on full display thus far.

"It's all angles and speed, having good dumps and anticipating them," Lucic said. "You definitely have to get on your horse to get in there because defenseman these days are real fast. You just have to take the right angle, and when you get in on a guy, you just have to have the mindset that you are going hit through him. That's what creates the big hits."

That's also what creates space for his linemates.

"He puts the puck in the corner, and the defenseman know he is coming, so it makes a lot of room for everyone else," Horton said. "Not just my line but everybody. Other lines put the puck deep. They don't know who put it in and who's coming, so he makes a lot of room for everyone out there."

Horton and Lucic have been the bookends with Patrice Bergeron playing the pivot the last five games. For 11 games and before being injured, David Krejci was the center on the line. Regardless of who the man in the middle has been, the combination has been effective, if not dominant.

"I've been playing with great players, and it has been a lot of fun for me to play with them," Horton said. "My linemates are so talented and they see the ice real well. It's a joy to come to the rink, and obviously with my other teammates, it's been great."

On Wednesday night vs. the New York Rangers, Horton and Lucic did what they have been doing best, combining for the Bruins' first goal in an eventual 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden.

"It is awesome. They are great players, and its fun to play with them," Bergeron said. "We just try to create as much as we can. I'm just trying to play my game on my side and create some chances and hopefully get some goals like we did [Wednesday in New York]."

If things keep going like they are for Horton and Lucic, the questions surrounding them this season will have been answered as emphatically as Lucic has been stapling opposing defenders into the end boards.


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