WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Feelings of both disappointment and concern emanated from the Boston Bruins' dressing room at Ristuccia Arena after practice Wednesday.
While the team practiced for a third straight day in advance of the Thursday start of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with Washington, general manager Peter Chiarelli explained that forward Nathan Horton has been shut down for the remainder of the season because of a concussion.
Horton has been out of the lineup since a hit Jan. 22 from Philadelphia's Tom Sestito. Horton scored two Game 7 series-winning goals (one in overtime), and added a second overtime winner, during the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup championship last season.
"It's big for him and for the team," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "We're not going to be always wondering and hoping if he's going to come back and kind of save us or whatnot. The fact that we know now that we have to do it within the room and we can't rely on him to come back and help us out, different guys are going to realize they have to step up.
"And for him it relieves that pressure that he has to try to rush back and try to progress every single day to try to rush back to help us in the playoffs. Now he can take his time and worry about getting better mentally and hopefully come back for next year."
Horton was originally diagnosed with a mild concussion, and Chiarelli has been assured that the current concussion is not related to the one that ended Horton's 2011 playoff run in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. But Horton's progress toward a return kept taking "one step forward, two steps back" and was frustrating the veteran player, the GM said.
"Well, what happened in general was that he'd be tracking, he'd be improving and then he'd have some symptoms," Chiarelli said. "They weren't huge symptoms, but they'd always come up at some point after three, four, five or six days of positive stuff.
"It was a frustrating exercise for Nathan; it was a frustrating exercise for us because we've been through this rehab before with players and I've seen all kinds of rehab patterns now because usually you can see when the player has color, and when he's animated, you think he's turned the corner, and then they have a bout of post-concussion symptoms and they manifest themselves in different ways. With Nathan, sometimes it'd be just a fogginess, sometimes he wouldn't feel right and sometimes there'd be a big headache. But it was always after three, four or five days of positive progress."
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Horton had played every game this season up until his injury. But the Bruins earlier got a taste of life without him in the Cup Final last year against Vancouver. The Bruins won Game 3 after Aaron Rome's hit knocked Horton out of the game. They then won Game 4 with Rich Peverley scoring two goals while skating in Horton's former spot on the Bruins' top line next to Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
The Bruins went on to win the series in seven games, and they're confident they can again make a deep run without Horton.
"I think obviously the loss of Nathan has been huge. He's such a big part of this team and such a big part of the locker room," center Chris Kelly said. "But guys have learned to step up and try to fill that hole that he's left and I think guys have done a great job. It's a group effort, collectively, that everyone needs to step up and kind of fill that big hole that he leaves."
The Bruins have dealt with similar situations in the past with Patrice Bergeron, who has since blossomed into one of the League's top two-way forwards, and Marc Savard, who hasn't played since a brief return last winter. In many cases, Chiarelli said, some time away from the team can be mentally refreshing.
While Chiarelli is confident of a Horton return next season, he also knows how unpredictable head injuries can be.
"Yeah, I am [confident], but who knows? Who knows?" he said. "I, going into two weeks ago, if you had asked me about him playing this playoffs, I'm like, 'You know, there's a chance.' And then he had a couple of setbacks and then you have to take a step back and kind of look at the whole thing, and that's what we did."