Horton turns up heat before playoffs

BOSTON -- After a subpar week, Boston Bruins winger Nathan Horton decided it was time to turn his game up a notch.

While trying to keep focus on the task at hand and keep his game in tip-top shape without looking forward to his first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Horton played Saturday against the Ottawa Senators with the physical prowess that has led to him lighting the lamp on a more frequent basis during the second half of the season. Horton scored his 26th goal of the season, got into a toe-to-toe bout with Senators forward Zack Smith and was a presence for the full 60 minutes in helping his team to a 3-1 win in their regular-season home finale.

Following the game, Horton agreed that when he gets the body flying around, his offensive flair picks up, as well.

“People are always looking to see if you’re coming or not coming,” Horton said. “You never know, and I think it’s like that with anyone if someone does that to you, you feel the same way -- it’s about playing hard and competing. You have to have that desire to really want to get the puck, fight for it and run someone over -- just having that jump and that extra edge that gets people thinking.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien expressed the same theory and sees Horton's physical game and his scoring as byproducts of each other. As Julien pointed out, Horton has gained more confidence using both those elements of his game.

“I think it’s more his approach,” Julien said of Horton thriving off a physical game. "He has kind of gotten himself in a zone that every game he plays, he plays with an edge, and that’s the way he’s been successful. ... He’s a pretty scary individual, a big, strong, opposing player. And if he plays with an edge, it certainly makes the other teams look over their shoulders.

“He’s had some challenging years in Florida where they were eliminated from the playoffs and not much to play for, but now I think he’s realized what’s at stake and he sees it and he’s grown through the whole process. So, hopefully that’s what has happened here. But I like his approach.”

Julien did admit he was praying for Horton’s fight with Smith to end quickly so his first-line winger wouldn’t get hurt. But, as he pointed out, you also don’t want Horton to temper that part of his game.

“It happened right in front of me and I wasn’t moving much,” Julien said with a smile. “Just kind of, same reason, like hopefully this just ends and we can separate them and go your own way. But there’s always a fear of an injury there. But you can’t take away, like I said, the attitude and I guess the approach that you have to the game. He’s playing with a bit of a burr and give him credit for that. So I certainly didn’t want to hold him back.”

Horton was really happy after the game that he and his teammates were finally able to string together 60 minutes of Bruins hockey and control the tempo from beginning to end after two inconsistent games.

“We wanted to do a lot of things today,” Horton said. “We came into the intermission and we made it clear that we needed to hold this lead and not sit back. We want to go into the playoffs with confidence, and the last two games, we just have sort of been playing our game here or there but not 60 minutes, and it meant a lot to us to go full-out today and build that momentum going in. We did that and we played hard and did the things that will help us with confidence going into the playoffs.

"I think that was our best game over the last week. That’s the way we want to play and we need to do that one more game and then every game in the playoffs.”

Now it’s time to close out the season with one more full effort and ride the momentum into the playoffs. For Horton, he’s chomping at the bit to play his first playoff game.

“It’s nice, especially to play 80 games here in Boston, where hockey’s the world," Horton said. "It’s been a special year for me, and I’ve enjoyed it. There’s some downs and some ups, and I’m looking to continue the ups, and I think everyone is here.”

And if the Bruins face off against their bitter rivals in the first round?

“I think it would be fun, for sure, but you just never know and it doesn’t matter who we play,” Horton said of potentially playing the Montreal Canadiens. “You can’t think like that, but it would definitely be fun. We’ll see.”