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by Hannah Becker / Boston Bruins

BOSTON – Surrounded by a locker room full of media, as one of the hottest stops in the B’s stall tour, one thing clearly seen between the cameras is Nathan Horton’s beaming smile. And boy, does he have reason to smile.

Horton celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference final series, Friday, May 27, 2011, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
His Boston Bruins are after all about to begin their first Stanley Cup Finals series since 1990, and he is after all one of the biggest reasons they have made it this far into the postseason.

After spending six fruitless seasons with the Florida Panthers and never once seeing playoff ice, Horton has quickly become a Boston sports hero, making a name for himself alongside Larry Bird, Doug Flutie, Tom Brady and Dave Roberts. Should the Bruins climb onto duck boats in two-weeks time, Horton’s name will long be an answer to Boston sports trivia questions.

‘Who scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game 7 against Montreal that completed the Bruins opening series comeback?’ Answer: Nathan Horton.

‘In 2011, who scored the Eastern Conference Championship-clinching goal in Game 7 against Tampa Bay?’ Answer: Nathan Horton.

In his first career postseason run, the Canadian-born Horton has collected 8-9-17 totals through 18 games, including a record-setting two series-clinching goals.

“There’s nothing like scoring in overtime or a game-winner to move on to the next round,” said Horton. “It’s definitely hard to describe how good of a feeling that feels.”

Did you know he’s modest, too?

“It’s been going good but you know in the end it really does not matter about points, people,” Horton told a crowd of reporters.

“Every player is a little piece of the puzzle and I don’t think anything can happen if everyone’s not going.”

No matter his modesty, it’s impossible not to notice the 6-foot-2-inch forward. Whether he’s skating alongside linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci, chasing down opposing players or standing in the center of a media swarm, Horton -- and his thousand-watt smile -- doesn’t go unnoticed.

“It’s crazy; it’s a hockey market. And you know it’s exciting,” Horton said.

“Everyone watches it seems. Boston is a sports place and they are definitely tuning into [the] game,” he added. “You can tell because anywhere you go everyone is shaking your hands. And you know hopefully we can win it for ourselves and win it for the fans and the history of the Boston Bruins.”

It’s not surprising that the sniper that Boston picked up in an offseason trade along with Gregory Campbell, in exchange for Dennis Wideman, has become a bit of a hero for B’s fans. But in his first playoff run, Horton never guessed he’d step up the way he has.

“It’s been really a lot of fun to play here and being in front of these fans, this situation,” he said.  “When you do think of growing up and being a hockey player this is how you want to think about it.”

“It doesn’t get any better than this.”

What would be better than this: A Stanley Cup Championship.

As the Bruins prepare for their Finals match-up with the Vancouver Canucks, Horton is acutely aware that Boston is considered the underdogs. Game 1 against the President Trophy Canucks is set for Wednesday night in Vancouver.

“I don’t think it really matters,” Horton said. “It’s all about winning and you know it’s going to be whoever puts in the best effort.”

The B’s know they are facing a team largely considered to be the best in the NHL. But for Horton, it’s about putting the hype out of mind and purely focusing on hockey. Keeping emotions even keeled is especially important for Boston after coming off an exciting Game 7, 1-0, Eastern Conference Championship-clinching win over Tampa Bay on Friday.

You guessed it—Horton scored the game winner.

“It’s nice that we’re going to the Stanley Cup Finals but our celebrating is all over with,” Horton said.

“It’s back to work.”

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