BOSTON – After being limited to just two goals through the Bruins' first 11 games, forward Nathan Horton admitted last week that he was still struggling to find his groove months after last June's season-ending concussion.
Horton was a presence in Toronto on Saturday night, but somehow failed to get on the score sheet in a 7-0 rout of the Maple Leafs.
Unfortunately for the New York Islanders, Horton finally seems back to normal, scoring two goals and adding an assist at the TD Garden in the Bruins' 6-2 win, which extended their winning streak to a season-high three games.
Horton scored both of his goals on rebounds. His first score put Boston up 2-1 at 13:38 of the first period after Zdeno Chara's shot careened off Isles starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov – who was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots – all the way to the left dot for a Horton wrister inside the far post. Horton then made New York's second netminder Al Montoya (22 saves) pay after Joe Corvo fired a shot from the right point at 5:23 of the third.
The forward's second goal came just 49 seconds after he drove the net and dished to Milan Lucic for a goal that put the Bruins up 4-2.
"It definitely makes you stronger," said Horton, when asked after the game about emerging from his doldrums. "The tough times are not easy, but tonight I felt better. It makes you feel better getting points and feeling good out there. I still want work on my game and keep getting better and do anything I can to help my team."
While Horton and the Bruins seem to have regained their blistering 2010-11 playoff form – they have 18 goals in the last three games – Isles coach Jack Capuano said his team didn't do themselves any favors.
"We just had some guys that didn't show up," said the coach, whose team fell to 1-5-2 in its last eight outings. "I'm not going to mention names, but it was real disappointing toward some guys' work tonight, their work ethic."
Prior to Monday, the Bruins had scored just three goals in backup goaltender Tuukka Rask's first three starts. They started on their way to providing Rask with unprecedented goal support just 1:32 in, when Benoit Pouliot scored his first goal as a member of the Bruins.
New York tied it at 5:52 on a goal by Matt Moulson, but Horton's put-back eight minutes later put the Bruins ahead to stay. Rask finished with 24 saves on 26 shots to earn his first win of the season.
"Yeah, the sooner the better, right?" said Rask. "I wasn't too frustrated, but when you feel like you're playing OK and then just losing, it's tough on your confidence a little bit. But we battled through it and it's good to get that win."
Although the Bruins never let the Isles come level, New York cut the lead to one goal with just 1:24 left in the second period on a goal by Michael Grabner after a Johnny Boychuk giveaway at the Boston blue line.
If the Isles carried momentum into the third period, they didn't hang onto it very long.
"Obviously you can't give up two quick ones like that. It's 3-2 and if we play solid we're going to get back into the game, but we gave up a couple of mistakes and that line is going to make you pay," said Isles forward Brian Rolston, referring to the red-hot trio of Lucic, Horton and David Krejci.
Lucic's goal at 4:34 of the third period put the Bruins up 4-2 and extended his streak to four straight games with a goal. Earlier in the night, Tyler Seguin scored his fourth goal in two games and fifth in four. Patrice Bergeron assisted on Seguin's goal to extend his points streak to seven games.
But the man of the evening was Horton, whom the Bruins relied upon to bail them out twice in overtime and once late in a scoreless Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year in the playoffs. Despite his early-season struggles and some unfortunate bounces, he's stuck with what he does best and it finally paid off.
"You can't get down on yourself when it doesn't go in, because that's when you start to lose your confidence," said Horton. "You don't think like that, you just think positive and eventually when you do that get that chance next time – it might not be as best a shot as you had – it might just go in."
Twice it went in for Horton against the Islanders. There might be more to come.