BOSTON — Nathan Horton had waited too long to get his first taste of playoff action to let it end this quickly.
Horton never reached the postseason in six seasons with Florida, and his only goal throughout his first year in Boston was reaching that elusive second season.
So with the Bruins facing elimination after the Canadiens forced a Game 7 with a win in Montreal on Tuesday, then forced overtime in Game 7 with a late third-period goal on Wednesday, Horton stepped up to deliver the biggest goal the Bruins have scored in years.
Horton launched a one-timer from just inside the blue line at 5:43 of overtime to lift Boston to a 4-3 win in Game 7 at the Garden and a 4-3 series win to advance to the second round.
"It was pretty nice," Horton said of the goal. "I mean, it felt pretty good. I don't remember too much. I remember Looch [Milan Lucic] coming up with the puck and I just tried to get open, and I tried putting the puck towards the net. Luckily it got deflected off someone and it went straight in. That's all I remember. It was pretty special, again, it doesn't get any better."
Horton's second overtime winner of the series was better than even what he imagined postseason play could be like all those years in Florida when he was just a spectator as other clubs competed for the Stanley Cup.
"I'm really enjoying it," Horton said. "Every day is exciting. Every day is a new day, but it feels good, definitely, to get used to this, continue winning. That's what it's all about.
"I imagined, you know, I haven't been in the playoffs for a long time," added Horton, who also scored the winner in the second overtime of Game 4. "I've had a lot of time to think about it, so it's definitely better than I imagined. It's fun to be here, and it's exciting."
Horton's teammates were equally excited for the winger whose smile hasn't left his face since arriving in Boston in June.
"It's awesome," goalie Tim Thomas said. "I said last time, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But he's making a name for himself as a big game player and that’s great to see. For a guy who has never had the opportunity to play in the playoffs, he's making a reputation. We wouldn't have won this series without him."
And the Bruins wouldn't have won without the deal that brought Horton and Gregory Campbell to Boston for Dennis Wideman and a first-round pick.
"It really is," Bruins president Cam Neely said when asked if it was satisfying to see that acquisition pay off so handsomely. "I mean it's his first playoffs. He's been in the league a handful of years, and he was excited about getting to Boston, excited about playing in the playoffs. He's scored a couple big goals for us.
"I think if you look at hockey players' careers, the first thing you kind of look for is their playoff career more so than their regular season career," Neely added. "And I think guys understand that and they know that. They know what playoff hockey is all about. They get excited about playoff hockey. And Nate is no different. He's come in here and held his game and scored big goals for us."
Big goals he's waited a long time to score.
"When you score two overtime goals in a series, you understand how big a piece of the puzzle this guy's been for our hockey club," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He's been saving it for seven years, right? So he had a lot of winning goals in him."