BOSTON -- Bruins forward Nathan Horton and defenseman Tomas Kaberle shared a bond heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs: Kaberle hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2003-04 season and Horton had never been to the playoffs in seven seasons of NHL hockey with the Florida Panthers. Each acknowledged after practice Thursday that there most certainly was an adjustment period in the first few games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals series against Montreal.
Kaberle, the former Maple Leafs blueliner known for his slick puck-moving and power-play skills, said he actually struggled to adapt when he first came to Boston Feb. 18 in exchange for prospect Joe Colborne, the Bruins’ 2011 first-round pick and a conditional pick, and that the unfamiliarity of the playoffs added more pressure for him to fit in and play his game. But as the playoffs have progressed -- and, more specifically, in this Eastern Conference semifinals series -- Kaberle has found his groove is back to playing his game. His minutes may be down but he said he is happy with his game as of late and ready to help his team wherever they need it.
“I always put a little pressure on myself and maybe I did a little too much at the start against Montreal,” said Kaberle, who has three assists in the playoffs. “I feel more comfortable now against Philadelphia and, like I’ve said before when I got here, I’ll do anything to help this team. It doesn’t matter if I play power or I play five minutes or 25 minutes, I’ll approach it the same and help in any way I can.
“With Montreal, they were a fast team and if you pinch at the wrong time, they’re going to hurt you. But Philly, they’ve got lots of offensive power and we have to be aware of that as well. But, yeah, I am playing my game better against them.”
For Horton, the transition to playoff hockey came quicker as he has become “Mr. Clutch,” with two overtime winners and a goal against the Habs and two more lamplighters against Philadelphia. But even Horton admitted he wasn’t himself early on in the Montreal series and struggled to control his excitement and emotions over being in the playoffs.
“Well, I think you can tell the first two games of the playoffs it’s not that we weren’t working, we just weren’t working smart,” Horton said. “We were trying to finish our checks out of the play and just not playing our style, being a little bit too excited. Obviously there’s a lot of emotions in the playoffs and you just have to play the right way, play smart and don’t turn the puck over or give them too many opportunities. ... It took a little bit the first couple of games there to not be so anxious and just kind of relax and play smart.”
Horton didn’t score in the first two games of the Montreal series, but once he found the twine in Game 3, the tension and nervousness turned into motivation and determination to play his game.
“I think after that [Game 3], whatever happens, just keep playing the way we can play,” Horton said. “Relax and the biggest thing was getting pucks in deep when you can. ... Obviously you’re going to be excited about every game but just try not to let your emotions take over and do what’s made us successful all year.”
Kaberle credited his newfound comfort level to goaltender Tim Thomas, the Vezina Trophy candidate who has been spectacular in the playoffs.
"With Timmy behind us, it’s given me and the guys confidence and that’s helped. So having him there has made me more relaxed and I’ve been able to settle myself defensively -- because that’s playoff hockey, it’s all about defense first,” Kaberle said. “But now that I am comfortable defensively, I can mix in my offense as well. Before I was probably staying back too much and my game is to move the puck up as quick as possible and help the forwards with breakouts and I feel I’ve been doing that a lot more lately so I want to keep it up.”
With a chance to sweep the Flyers in Game 4 Friday, Kaberle said he and his teammates are trying not to get too comfortable.
“It’s not finished and we have to make sure we play the same way, even better,” Kaberle said. “It’s going to be the hardest game [Friday]. We have to make sure we prepare from the first shift like we always do. So it would be nice to finish it at home here, get a few days of rest in between, but like I said, you don’t look at the long run, just tomorrow’s game and that’s how you approach it.”