Tyler Seguin’s Hot Seat Gets Hotter, As Nathan Horton Injury Puts Even More Pressure on Winger

Tyler SeguinThe Bruins have built a successful system based on depth, guys stepping up and collectively getting hot at the right times.

The B’s have also relied upon a group of top-tier players to maintain consistency and keep the Black and Gold motor running. Tyler Seguin hasn’t really fit into either crowd in the 2013 postseason, but he’s about to, if the Bruins want to win the Stanley Cup.

Seguin was relegated to the third line earlier this postseason, with many media members and sports talk radio callers calling for him to be buried even further — perhaps even scratched. The winger hasn’t done much to argue against these armchair ideas, as he’s registered one goal and four assists in 17 playoff games after getting 16 goals and 16 assists in 48 regular-season games. He’s one of just three Bruins regulars to be in the red when it comes to plus-minus, as his minus-2 only beats out Rich Peverley (minus-6) and Chris Kelly (minus-9).

Those aren’t the numbers of a former first-rounder making 5.7 million smackers. And while he’s already been working in a new role this postseason, he could be looking at yet another one come Saturday night.

After Nathan Horton left the first overtime with what appeared to be re-aggravation to an existing upper-body injury, Seguin was asked to jump into the league’s hottest line, joining the postseason’s best player in David Krejci and the NHL’s most feared player in Milan Lucic. Needless to say, it was quite the promotion — a promotion wasted if he continues to play sub-par puck.

As hot as Krejci is, Horton has been just as terrific. He trails Krejci, the NHL’s points leader, by five points with seven goals and 11 assists, but he leads the league with a plus-22 in this Cup run. Trying to replace Horty’s offense is one thing, but keeping up with the Krejci and Lucic to make the loss of Horton less dramatic is an even bigger thing — but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be a great thing for Seguin to break out and sprinkle some 19s on the scoresheet.

Seguin leads the team in shots this postseason with 62, so the chances have been there.

“He’s been skating well,” head coach Claude Julien said on Thursday. “To me right now, the only thing he needs to do is to be able to finish. If he can finish, it will certainly help his confidence, help our hockey club. But not criticizing his work ethic because he’s competing hard and he’s got some chances. Those things are certainly a positive thing. So there’s only one thing left to do, and you hope for his sake and our sake that it comes along.”

Even if Horton does return, he won’t be the same player he was. As if they didn’t know before, the Blackhawks now know where to target the top-line winger, making any remaining games he plays pure torture. If he stays in the lineup, it will water down that top line, meaning other lines — namely, Seguin’s — will have to step things up on offense.

“It’d be nice to get some goals,” Seguin told the media prior to Game 1, when he was still a third-line role player. “When I work my hardest and have fun, that’s when I have my better games. I have to make sure to find the right level of being excited and also staying calm.”

It’s safe to say that level of excitement was enhanced as the thunderous anthem rocked the United Center prior to Game 1. It’s going to grow even more if Seguin takes over Horton’s spot for good from here on out. He even admitted that he needs to improve on two key things: “My battling [and] my competitive level.”

Not that it will be Seguin’s series to lose if he fills in for Horton full-time along Lucic and Krejci, but it will be his butt on the line as he’s already dug himself a deep hole in the hearts and minds of B’s faithful. An offseason full of depressed fans with plenty of ammunition won’t make one of his most important developmental years any easier. Despite his rocky playoffs, an overtime point in Game 1 would gone a country mile for his playoff report card. Just imagine what can happen if Seguin catches fire and blends right into the force that is the Krejci-Lucic combo?

“I thought he was skating really well,” Patrice Bergeron said on Thursday. “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 last night, he’s really tough to defend.”

Seguin has been given plenty of opportunity to pick things up and dust off a rather lackluster performance through the Eastern Conference battles, but now that the team is struggling in depth and scoring on hockey’s biggest stage, his production is no longer an added bonus, it’s a necessity.

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