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CHICAGO -- The Boston Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup with top-line forward Nathan Horton watching from press level due to a season-ending concussion he suffered in Game 3 against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Bruins are hoping that's not the case again this spring.
Horton suffered an upper-body injury during the first overtime period of the Bruins' 4-3 triple-overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Cup finals Wednesday night at United Center. He was battling for position in front of the Chicago net when he got tangled up with Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson during a Boston power play.
|Nathan Horton skates to the bench in Game 1 after suffering an upper-body injury.|
Clearly in pain and hunched over, Horton skated to the bench, went directly to the dressing room and did not return.
On Thursday, Bruins coach Claude Julien said Horton is listed as day-to-day.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that hopefully he's back with us next game," Julien said.
Horton missed the last five games of the regular season after sustaining an upper-body injury in a fight with Penguins forward Jarome Iginla on April 20. Horton returned for Game 1 of the first-round series against the Maple Leafs. According to a WEEI.com report citing a source close to Horton, he has been taking injections before playoff games to deal with a left shoulder injury sustained in the Iginla altercation and aggravated the lingering ailment in Wednesday's Game 1.
Horton struggled during the regular season, but he's been an offensive force in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Losing his services will be detrimental to the Bruins because the team's top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Horton has combined for 57 points this postseason. Individually, Horton has seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 17 games, including a plus-22 rating. He's also averaging close to 20 minutes of ice time per game.
"He's been big for us," said Bruins president Cam Neely. "He's come up with big goals in the playoffs that he's played here for us. He's a great linemate for [Lucic] and [Krejci] and he's done everything we've asked of him and more."
"He's been good," said Julien. "You look at his statistics and you look at what he's accomplished, even with Lucic's first goal [in Game 1], it was a great heads-up play by [Horton]. He's been really good."
If Horton is not available for Game 2 and beyond, Julien does have some options.
When asked whom he would want to see in the mix, the coach said he'd rather wait and see Horton's prognosis first.
"I'm not going there because that decision's not made," Julien said.
Tyler Seguin replaced Horton after the injury for the remainder of the game and played well alongside Krejci and Lucic. Seguin was skating and creating chances. While he wouldn't say whether or not he'd keep Seguin on that line, Julien has been pleased with the forward's play.
"He's been skating well," Julien said. "To me, right now the only thing he needs to do now is to be able to finish. If he can finish it'll certainly help his confidence, help our hockey club. I'm not criticizing his work ethic because he's competing hard and he's got some chances. Those things are certainly a positive things, and there's only one thing left to do and you hope for his sake, and our sake, that it comes along.
"He skated, had some chances. He's got the speed to be up there with them, got the skill. For him, it's an opportunity right now. He did a great job. We'll see where everybody stands here by Saturday."
If he remains on that top line, teammate and former linemate Patrice Bergeron is confident Seguin will produce.
"I thought he was skating really well," Bergeron said. "He had some great looks, especially in overtime. He had some very good chances. When he's on his game, when he uses his speed like he did [Game 1] he's really tough to defend."
|Nathan Horton, right, missed the final five games of the regular season after this scrap with the Penguins' Jarome Iginla on April 20.|
As far as the possibility of losing Horton, Bergeron said: "He's definitely a big part of our team. But we'll see. Hopefully he's fine."
Energy-line left winger Daniel Paille is versatile and can play the right side on that top line if needed. He brings speed and grit and could fit in well. Plus, he has experience playing on the top lines.
"With his speed, his ability to score goals at some pretty important times has been good for our club, especially for a guy who most of the time will play on the fourth line," Julien said. "He's been able to step up and help us out in different areas. He continues to be a good penalty killer for us. His game is just as important as we talked about [Gregory] Campbell going down. You lose a guy like Campbell or Paille, whether they're on the first line or the fourth line, they still play a valuable role in our hockey club."
If Julien needs to summon the services of one of the healthy scratches, Jay Pandolfo or Jordan Caron could be in the mix, too.
"We've worked everybody hard," Julien said. "They've been pushed and they've done extra -- forwards and D's included. There's nobody in that extra squad that isn't ready to step in right now."
When Horton missed the remainder of the 2011 Cup finals, his teammates and the fans rallied around him and used his injury as additional motivation to beat the Canucks. But the Blackhawks are a much different team than the Canucks were, and Horton's contributions will be needed in this series.
If he's out, it could have a devastating effect on the Bruins.
"Regardless of what happens with Nathan, we need guys to step up and they understand what they need to do, whether we have a full lineup or have other guys stepping in there," Neely said.
The best-case scenario for the Bruins? The two days off between games allow Horton to heal enough to be ready for Game 2. This team needs his production in order to be successful.