It took seven seasons. Perhaps it took the bright lights of the big postseason stage. Or maybe it was just a better supporting cast.
Whatever the answer, the end result is that Nathan Horton has finally begun to show the promise and top-level potential that was seen in him. Because it was Horton, a newcomer to Boston this season, who finished the crazy best-of-7 series vs. the Canadiens with an overtime winner. It was also him who ended Game 5 in double overtime.
Yes, the winger is stepping into the spotlight in his first time on the stage. For years he was lost in hockey purgatory, a.k.a. Florida.
Only once did the Panthers come close to the playoffs, finishing in an eighth-place tie with the Canadiens but losing on a tie-breaker. So perhaps this was some sort of revenge. Doubtful. His memories from his cellar-dwelling days are likely gone. That tends to happen when you move on up to the penthouse that is Beantown for your hockey home.
And, perhaps unfairly, Horton was always seen as bit of an underachiever for the Panthers, somewhat a victim of the high expectations, somewhat of being seen as the most talented player on a constantly underachieving team. He had flashes in his time with the 'Cats, but most felt he was capable of so much more, that he just needed to get out of the losing environment and with some better teammates. Then, many said, he'd flourish.
Well, this is a start. Horton's numbers this season didn't surpass what he had put up in Florida. His 26 goals this season were five below his career high of 31 in 2006-2007. But the weight of his latest goals is something he's never put up before.
"It’s been good [to watch], obviously, when you score two overtime goals in the series. You understand how big a piece of the puzzle he’s been for this hockey club. He had a really good start in the first month [of the season], then he cooled down a little bit," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Game 7. "But what I saw from Nathan from the half-point on until the end was a guy who became a lot more consistent in his game. His preparation was good, whether he scored or not, he was battling. He played hard. I think he’s really grown a lot in the second half."
I'd say so. And it can't be lost on the man coaching on the other bench, Jacques Martin. The Habs coach was behind the Panthers bench for much of Horton's time there before moving into the general manager's chair.
"Right now scoring those two big goals, [which] he’s been saving those for seven years, right?" Julien said. "He has a lot of winning goals in him."
Boston can only hope.
-- Brian Stubits