Then, he showed off the other side of his game, an element that had even his own coach cringing a bit as Horton engaged Ottawa's Zack Smith in a lengthy slugfest in front of the Boston bench midway through the second period of Saturday's 3-1 win over the Senators.
"It happened right in front of me and I wasn't moving much, just kind of [hoping] this just ends and we can separate them," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "There's always a fear of an injury there, but you can't take away the attitude and I guess the approach that he's had to the game. He's playing with a bit of a burr and give him credit for that. So I certainly didn't want to hold him back."
The fight set a tone that may not have been needed in a relatively meaningless game against an opponent long eliminated from postseason contention, but one that Horton felt very necessary to maintain his own level of play.
Horton has raised that level in the last couple of months after suffering through a prolonged slump midway through the season, and it was no coincidence that his scoring touch returned when he amped up his physical play.
"I think so, because people are always looking to see if you're coming," Horton said about his physical play creating offensive chances. "It's about playing hard and competing and having that desire to really want to get the puck and fight for the puck and run someone over. Just having that jump and that extra edge gets people thinking."
Horton opened the season on fire, putting up 8-10-18 totals in his first 17 games as a Bruin, when he also posted 20 hits and 25 penalty minutes. But a prolonged slump followed, with just 4-6-10 totals over the next 31 games. He also had just 17 hits and 18 PIMs in that stretch.
Since the start of February though, Horton has found his game again, in part by finding his edge. Over the last 31 games, he has 14-11-25 totals, along with 37 hits, 42 penalty minutes and four of his career-high seven fighting majors. Teaming with linemate Milan Lucic, Horton has helped open space and create opportunities with his physical play for himself and for linemates Lucic and David Krejci.
"They're big guys and if they play physical they're certainly going to give themselves some space," Julien said.
"I think it's more his approach," Julien added of Horton's resurgence. "Like I said, he has kind of gotten himself in a zone, that every game he plays, he plays with an edge and that's the way he's been successful. I think he's just got to keep playing with that edge. He's a pretty scary individual — a big, strong, imposing player. And if he plays with an edge it certainly makes the other team look over their shoulders."
Julien may not have wanted to look when Horton was absorbing right hands from Smith, but the coach is looking forward to seeing Horton apply that same intensity and passion in the postseason.
"The way he's come around in the second half, I think his whole attitude and approach to the game has really gotten better and better," Julien said. "I have no doubt in my mind that he's going to be fine because he's playing with an attitude and that attitude has been with him for a while now. And you saw today, in what a lot of people would have talked about a meaningless game, so I'm not worried about him. I think he's ready and excited about the playoffs."
Horton has never played an NHL postseason game, as the Panthers never qualified for the postseason in his six seasons in Florida before coming to Boston last summer. But Horton isn't worried about his lack of postseason experience, and he's confident that having overcome his midseason struggles, he's poised to produce in his playoff debut.
"I'm definitely not happy with how long I went without scoring," Horton said. "But those things happen and I feel good about working through it. Right now all that matters in the playoffs. That part's gone now and when you get to the playoffs it's a new year, a new season and this is where it really counts. So I'll be looking to do my best and not let that happen [kind of slump] again."
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