BOSTON – The Boston Bruins missed Nathan Horton after he was knocked out of the lineup by his second concussion in seven months last January.
A little more than a year later, the Bruins are reaping the rewards of another Horton comeback.
Horton scored the tying goal with 4:05 remaining in regulation and the Bruins won a six-round shootout to defeat the New Jersey Devils, 2-1, at TD Garden on Tuesday night and improve to 5-0-1 on the season.
The Devils remained unbeaten in regulation and are 3-0-2. Boston and New Jersey are the only Eastern Conference teams without a regulation loss.
It's been impossible to tell that Horton went nearly a year between NHL games after his career-threatening injury suffered Jan. 22, 2012. He has five points (three goals) in the Bruins' six games.
"We know he's got good strength, he's a great skater, has a great shot, and he's utilizing all his tools right now and there doesn't seem to be anything holding him back," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "And that's pretty impressive because guys come back sometimes a little tentative and that's not the case with Nathan. I think right now you're seeing him at his best. We all know that he's a machine. He doesn't seem like he's missed a beat. He's right back in great form right now and we're feeding off him, there's no doubt."
It took Horton until the Bruins' third game of the season to score his first goal, and he has now scored in back-to-back games.
"It feels great, just to contribute to help the team," he said. "Whether it's anything, it's a hit or a [goal], I'm just trying to work hard and be the best I can to not let my teammates down."
The Bruins won the shootout, 2-1, on goals by Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand. Seguin's goal came after a do-over because someone in the stands threw an object onto the ice during his first successful attempt against Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg. The officials used Rule 24.4 to make Seguin shoot again, and the speedster went to his backhand instead of the forehand he used to score the first time. In the sixth round, Marchand beat Hedberg five-hole before Tuukka Rask made a glove save on Marek Zidlicky.
Hedberg, who did not play during the lockout, made his first start of the season spelling Martin Brodeur. The veteran proved that the Devils again boast one of the League's best goaltending tandems with a 27-save performance.
"Sure it's tough," Hedberg said. "Breaks in the game happen, and they got a good break there. We still had a good chance; a game like this can go any way. A tied game, a 1-0 game going into the third, you never know what is going to happen. You just chug away and hope to get the second one. Unfortunately, they got the chance to tie it up."
The Bruins' run of 24 straight penalty kills to start the season, which they extended during the first period, came to a halt in the second when the Devils jumped on the scoreboard first. The Bruins left Zidlicky too much room to get off his slap shot from the left point, and David Clarkson tipped it past Rask.
Throughout the night, the Bruins looked like a team playing the second half of a back-to-back for the first time in this condensed season. The Devils had a hand in the Bruins' struggle to get in sync.
"They're a very tough team to play against. They really don't give you a whole lot of time and space, especially our second game in two nights, they didn't give us a whole lot," Marchand said. "But we did a great job at getting the two points.
"We did a good job. We were resilient and we showed we can win in all situations, whether we're up or down or tied, it doesn't matter."
David Krejci led the rush on the Bruins' tying goal. After he received a return pass from Milan Lucic in a 3-on-3 situation, Krejci fed Horton for a snap shot through Hedberg's five-hole.
"Yeah, it changed a little," Hedberg said. "When he released it, it hit the defenseman's stick and it caught me a little off guard."
Horton's seamless return to action has caught opponents and observers off guard as well. Maybe Horton is the least surprised by his early success in the 2012-13 season.
"I wanted to get back at it, and with everything, with the lockout and just waiting, it's tough. But you just keep working hard and I know that I'm ready and I'm not thinking about anything [in terms of the injury]," Horton said. "So I just want to come back and play as hard as I can and that's what I'm trying to do."