Nathan Horton trying to stay positive while still in recovery mode

Nathan Horton, now a Maple Leaf, is hoping to resume his career after being sidelined by a back injury. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Nathan Horton has his good days and his bad days.

On Friday, he’s celebrating his 30th birthday with family and friends, and his wish is to someday be healthy enough to resume his NHL career.

Horton has been dealing with a degenerative back injury that has kept him sidelined since April 2014. He missed all of last season, and the Columbus Blue Jackets traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 26 for forward David Clarkson.

“Yeah, I’m doing all right; I’m living my life,” he told ESPN.com. “Obviously, my back’s not great but I have my good days and some OK days. I’m just taking it easy. Eventually it’s going to go away -- I hope. I’m just enjoying my life. I’m healthy and I’m happy. It’s obviously tough because I want to play. It’s only my 30th birthday today, so I know I’m still young. Life gives you curveballs and I’m just trying to be positive and that’s pretty much all I can do.”

Horton was a key member of the Boston Bruins when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011. He also played through a bad shoulder injury and helped the Bruins return to the finals in 2013, where Boston eventually lost to the Chicago Blackhawks.

He became an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season, and the Bruins offered him a long-term deal, but he decided to sign a seven-year, $37.1 million deal with the Blue Jackets. He had surgery on his shoulder and missed the first half of the 2013-14 season. His back started to bother him during rehab, and after he returned to game action in January, he attempted to play through the back pain.

He decided not to have surgery because it would have meant the end of his career, due to the invasiveness of the procedure.

On the day the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers play Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden, Horton remembers the greatest moment of his NHL career.

He scored the game-winning goal to lead the Bruins to a 1-0 win over the Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on May 27, 2011, at TD Garden.

“That whole year, I’m sure if you ask [no one] will never forget it, the people, the team,” Horton said. “That game was so exciting. That was my first year in the playoffs, and to be specifically in that game for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, that’s something you dream of as a kid, to be in that game, that spot and to score. It didn’t matter who scored because we went to the Stanley Cup, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Horton suffered a season-ending concussion in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, when he was blindsided by the Vancouver Canucks' Aaron Rome. But Horton’s goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals allowed the Bruins to reach the finals and win a Stanley Cup.

“That was a crazy game; I remember everything that happened,” he said of Game 7. “It was such a great feeling. You can’t describe the feeling. I still think about it and it still gives me chills. I’ll never forget it. It was so amazing.”