In the grand scheme of things, Nathan Horton probably couldn't have asked for a better end to his first season as a Bruin.
Acquired from the Florida Panthers, a perennial playoff outsider, in the summer of 2010, Horton was simply sensational throughout the postseason -- his first-ever trip to the dance -- for the Black and Gold. He scored two overtime goals against Montreal in the first round, including the series-clincher in Game 7. No one will ever forget his third-period tally in Boston's 1-0 victory in Game 7 of the conference finals -- a tightly-contested battle with the Bolts that many still believe is the best hockey game they've ever seen.
And at the end of it all, Horton -- full gear and all -- got the opportunity to take his turn hoisting the Stanley Cup on June 15, 2011, following the B's championship-clinching victory out in Vancouver. But after three rounds of being Boston's clutch contributor, Horton was essentially relegated to being the cause for a rallying cry after getting concussed in Game 3 by Canucks d-man Aaron Rome and ruled out for the remainder of the series. The sight of Horton laid out near the blue line remains one of the most chilling images ever witnessed on hockey's biggest stage.
In early 2012, Horton was again sidelined by a head injury, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season and the Bruins' short-lived playoff run. Getting back to this stage of the playoffs and being on top of his game again one year later means a lot for the 28-year-old forward.
"It's definitely special for me to be back, being able to really have fun with it, enjoy it," Horton said during media day on Tuesday. "It was tough that year, not to be a part of it. But everybody wants to be on the ice. They want to enjoy, work for it. I never got a chance to do that."
When Horton went down in Game 3, the Bruins found themselves struggling in Game 3 and facing an 0-2 series deficit. They want on to capture an 8-1 victory that night -- their first of four victories in five games after dropping the first two tilts on the road.
"Two years ago, we rallied after he went down and tried to win it for him," teammate Patrice Bergeron said of Horton, who enters the Stanley Cup Final with 17 points and three game-winning goals, matching his postseason numbers from 2011.
"This year is the same thing. Obviously we definitely want to win. Having him with us gives us some life because he's such a clutch player, but also a great player. All year, but also this playoffs, he's been unbelievable."
Horton found ways to lend his support over the final four games, returning to the Garden for a surprise visit after Game 4 to pass along the infamous Starter jacket given to the team's nightly MVP that spring, before appearing on Garden HDX in a suit and tie and waving a rally towel in Game 6. He brought along some Garden ice via water bottle to Vancouver and sprayed it onto the rink before Game 7 got underway at Rogers Arena, where the Bruins had previously been 0-3 in the series.
"Not yet, not yet," the always-grinning Horton said when asked if he had some water-bottle magic in store, with Boston beginning the series in Chicago on Wednesday night.
In 2011, all Horton could do was try to bring his teammates good luck in the final week of the NHL playoffs. This time around, he's just grateful to be on the ice and have the opportunity to chip in.
"It doesn't come all the time," said Horton, an unrestricted free agent this summer who's now gone from a likely cap casualty to a player the Bruins will almost certainly find a way to keep. "I think everybody knows that. I'm just excited to be back and be here with my team."
His fellow Bruins, including linemate David Krejci, are happy to have him by their side as they head into battle with the Blackhawks.
"It's great that he's healthy and doing well," said Krejci. "Hopefully he's going to keep producing and keep helping our team to win."