BOSTON – The Boston Bruins got the perfect going-away present to gird them for a six-hour flight back to Vancouver on Thursday as Game 5 awaits.
No, it wasn't the dominating 4-0 win in Game 4 at TD Garden on Wednesday night that evened the best-of-7 series at 2-2. That certainly was stellar, but the post-game visit by the injured Nathan Horton had the Bruins in a giddy mood.
"It was awesome," forward Shawn Thorton said about the unexpected visit by Horton. "He's such a good team guy. He does everything for us and he has all year. Everybody on this team loves him and he makes everybody around him feel better about themselves.
"I don't think I have ever met a more positive guy in the room. Guys were pretty excited. I didn’t even know he was here until he walked out. That was a pretty nice surprise."
Nobody expected to see Horton just 48 hours after he was stretchered off the Garden ice in the first period of Game 3, the result of absorbing a late, open-ice hit from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome, who was suspended four games for the hit.
Horton spent the night in the hospital with a concussion, then released Tuesday morning. Before the game, Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said Horton was doing better and resting peacefully, but made no suggestion that Horton was ready to make a private appearance at the Garden.
Yet he walked into the jubilant dressing room, taking the players by surprise as they celebrated the victory.
"Everybody cheered," defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "It was nice to see him. It felt good for him to walk in and say hi to the guys."
Seidenberg said that Horton was all smiles during his visit and looked good.
Horton was also a man on a mission. He wanted to award the team's old-school jacket to another player. It is a post-win ceremony that has become very important to the team and Horton wanted to make sure it continued.
He had won the jacket by scoring the winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the jacket remained hanging in his stall after the Bruins won Game 3 on Monday night. Now, he wanted somebody else to have it. That somebody else was Rich Peverley, who scored a pair of goals while occupying Horton’s spot on the first line.
"I guess the guys wanted to leave it in his stall," Seidenberg said, "but he wanted to give the jacket out and he gave it to Pevs tonight."
That presentation was certainly the capper to a night that Peverley won't soon forget.
"It was pretty emotional," Peverley said. "Nathan came in, and he's a big part of this team. Just to be able to see him and know that he's healthy and safe, that’s very important to us."
When, it was done, Horton walked out, back to his house and his continued rehabilitation. The Bruins, meanwhile, finished packing their bags for Vancouver and a pivotal Game 5 that will put one team on the brink of winning the Stanley Cup.
"It was huge; we didn't expect to see him," said forward Michael Ryder, who saw some shifts in Horton's place and also scored a goal. "It's good to see that he is doing better. He's a big part of this team. We're going to miss him. Good to see him around and that he is doing well."