Bruins' Horton relishes playoff chance

Boston Bruins' Tim Thomas and Nathan Horton celebrate their won over the Philadelphia Flyers in...

Boston Bruins' Tim Thomas and Nathan Horton celebrate their won over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 3. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:12 AM ET

BOSTON - Nathan Horton didn't much watch the Stanley Cup playoffs before this season, never mind play in them.

"We don't get a lot of stations there in Florida," said Horton, who missed the playoffs every one of his six years in the NHL with the Florida Panthers. "I checked up and watched as much as I could."

Six years on the outside looking in, six years wondering what it would be like to test himself at the game's highest level, six years, a big chunk of your life when you're only 25 years old.

Some people in the game thought he was happy with that situation, play your 82 games, collect your paycheque and go home when the real season starts.
But Horton had enough.

The frustration had been building. There was an incident with assistant coach Mike Kitchen, an argument at a morning skate just over a year ago with the Ottawa Senators in town, words exchanged, Horton smashing his stick.

Horton had decided he wanted out and when Dale Tallon came in as the new general manager of the Panthers in the summer, the opportunity for change presented itself.

"I was there a long time and it didn't really work out," Horton said on Thursday, hours after collecting a Gordie Howe hat trick in the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, to give Boston a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. "It was just time for a change. When Dale Tallon came in, he was pretty good about it.

"It worked out both ways. I'm happy to be here. I had fun in Florida, but it was time for a change."

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli had been trying to pry Horton out of Florida for the past couple of years, but there was competition. Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs were interested, too, the Pens dangling defenceman Alex Goligoski.

Chiarelli had been acquiring assets for just this kind of opportunity and when he could send the Panthers defenceman Dennis Wideman and add the Bruins 2010 first-round pick and third-round pick this summer, he had Horton and forward Gregory Campbell.

"I read somewhere he's not a good guy," said Chiarelli, sitting in the stands at the TD Garden while his team practised Thursday. "He's a super kid."

The Welland, Ont., native had 26 goals in the regular season -- Chiarelli thinks he's capable of 40 -- and got off to a slow start, as did linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic, in the opening round against Montreal. Horton put the slow start down to nerves.

"I wanted to get there so much, it was just a case of being overly excited and too anxious. I kind of settled down a little bit," he said. Settled down. Right.

He had two overtime goals against the Habs and has two goals and three assists and is plus-five in three games against the Flyers. He fought veteran Flyers defenceman Sean O'Donnell in Game 3 to go with his goal and assist for the Gordie Howe.

"It just kind of happened," he said.

Now, in his first playoff experience, he's got a chance to go to the conference championship with one more win. Though he wasn't around here last season, he still got the questions about the Bruins blowing a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers last spring.

"Whatever happened last year, that's last year. You do look around the room and there's probably more than half the guys that are new," he said. "It obviously gives (the media) something to talk about, but it doesn't mean anything to us."

His first round nerves now gone, he is emerging as a legitimate power forward. Lucic on one side, Horton on the other and the skilled Krejci in the middle are forming a line that can challenge as the best in the post-season.

After six years on the outside, Horton is so in the middle of it now.

"It's way better than I thought," said Horton, "and I thought it was amazing."


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