-- When a player gets to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time, there's really two ways for him to go. He can either embrace the moment in the spotlight or cower from it.
forward Nathan Horton
has put a bear hug on the spotlight.
After six seasons with the Florida Panthers
watching the playoffs on TV, Horton has been a hit in his first eight postseason games. His goal in Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers
on Saturday was his fourth of the postseason, and he also had his first assist. He also leads the League with two game-winning goals – both in overtime, including the series-clincher in Game 7 of the first round against the Montreal Canadiens
"I'm having a lot of fun," Horton said following Sunday's practice at the Wells Fargo Center. "I enjoy this a lot. This is what hockey is about. I've been missing it. To be here and to be with this team, these guys, it's a pretty incredible feeling."
It's a feeling Horton had to learn firsthand. He's surrounded by teammates who are playoff veterans, but captain Zdeno Chara
said the best way to educate a playoff newcomer is to have him go through a game.
"You try to encourage them, you try to give them as much as you can, but the best thing is when they experience it themselves, when they go on the ice and see how it is,” Chara said. “Talking to them now after the first round, they realize it's so much tighter, everything is so much harder, every little thing can make a difference. That's something you can't really teach or talk to them about; they really have to experience it on their own."
Horton said he felt the temperature change on the ice the minute he stepped out for warmups at TD Garden prior to Game 1 of the first round.
"I did play with a lot of guys who played in the playoffs, but you don't know until you're there and feel it," Horton said. "It's not about anything else other than the team winning. When you win, and hear that last buzzer, it feels great. … It's an unbelievable feeling to play in the playoffs and be involved in this.
"It's hard to describe that feeling you get, how excited and how much everybody's pressing hard, everybody's backchecking, a bit more work ethic."
Putting in the extra work is nothing new for Horton. He did it during a regular season that saw him score 26 goals and finish a career-best plus-29 in 80 games.
"He hasn't changed his approach at all," linemate Milan Lucic
said. "That's why he's been able to relax and play his game, because he's approaching the game the same way. He's preparing for the games the same way. He's obviously played well for us so far. We're going to need him to keep playing the way that he's been playing if we want to have success."
GM Peter Chiarelli told NHL.com he was more curious than concerned with how Horton would respond this time of year. However, he said the background information he had on Horton prior to acquiring him last June made him believe it would only be positive.
"Part of the research you do when you acquire someone is you look at his character, what he's done in the past, how he's reacted to certain things. By all accounts we had positive reports. You like to think that if a guy has a good character in general that he's going to respond. There were times during the season when he went through stretches that he wasn't getting his shot off, wasn't scoring -- for big stretches -- and he stuck with it. Seeing how he stuck with it and it came around, he was able to work through his periods, it gave us better comfort going into the playoffs."
Now that he's through one round and already having contributed in the second round, there's no reason to expect Horton to slow down. He's having too much fun to stop now.
"Obviously there were a little nerves coming in because I haven't been here," he said, "but just very excited to start it. I'm still excited. I'm still having a lot of fun and really enjoying it."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK