Nathan Horton calls NHL playoffs “a different vibe”

Nathan Horton was a post-season hero for the Stanley Cup champion Bruins. He scored two OT game winners in Boston's opening-round series against Montreal, including the series-ending winner in game seven.

Playoffs? Talk about playoffs? You kidding me?

Sorry, Jim Mora, I do want to talk about playoffs. Specifically, how hard it is to get to the NHL post-season, and how rewarding it is for teams — and individual players — when they do. Let’s bring in Nathan Horton. Who better to discuss finally making the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Horton was a genuine hockey rags-to-riches story when he joined the Boston Bruins before the start of the 2010-11 season. The Blue Jackets winger had played seven years in the Florida Panthers organization and tasted exactly zero minutes of playoff action. None. Nada.

He was a quick learner. Despite that framework of no NHL playoff experience, Horton was a post-season hero for the Stanley Cup champion Bruins. He scored two OT game winners in Boston’s opening-round series against Montreal, including the series-ending winner in game seven. That alone gained him lifetime entrance into the rarified air of the "Complimentary Sam Adams and Union Oyster House Chowder Club." I mean, we’re talking Boston and Montreal here.

Then the Ontario native scored the only goal in the Bruins game-seven win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. Unfortunately, Horton’s playoff season ended when he took a hit to the head by Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome in game three of the Stanley Cup Final, but he had left his imprint. Maybe just as important, he had finally tasted NHL post-season, and the taste was good.

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"I’ve said many times just that feeling of being in the playoffs, it’s a different vibe," he explained. "That first game you can tell the difference, and every game means something. It’s special. As a hockey player that’s how you want to play, and that’s how you want the games to be.

"There’s nothing like it," Horton continued. "Just that experience that I gained in that short time of winning a Stanley Cup, that goes a long way. When you finally get to go to the playoffs and have that experience, it’s a valuable experience to have."

That Stanley Cup championship run in 2011 wasn’t Horton’s only NHL playoff experience. Last season the Boston Bruins made it to the Final again and were poised to force a game seven when the Chicago Blackhawks struck for those two late goals in game six and won their 2nd Stanley Cup in the last four years.

Again, Horton was a major factor in Boston’s long run. He had seven goals and 19 points in 22 post-season games last year. In all, the former 2003 first-round pick has 15 goals and 36 points in 43 playoff games. Does he feels he’s a better player overall, having had those two long playoff runs?

"Oh, definitely," he replied quickly, "it makes me really appreciate the process of working hard and making it there. As I said, it’s not easy; it’s a long year, and it’s a battle and a grind. And once you’re there, it’s even more of a battle and a grind, but it’s great.

"The only way to understand the experience is to get there, and we’re well on our way," Horton continued. "We have a great team; we have great players on our team. We have great goaltending, and we have all the pieces. So I think it’s only a matter of time."

Is this season the time? The Blue Jackets bring a five-game winning streak into Saturday night’s road game in Buffalo and have now gone 6-1-0 in January, and all of a sudden, a playoff berth doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Horton recognizes what it takes to become playoff worthy, and he’s seeing that from his team.

"Yeah, we’ve been doing the little things lately," he noted. "I think that’s why I think we’re on a little bit of a winning streak. Once you start winning you want to keep winning, keep having fun.

"We’re in a tight race right now and points mean everything. We know that. There are lots of games to be played, but we want to be in the best spot before the (Olympic) break, and that’s what we’re working towards."