The first time Horton was sidelined with a concussive hit was in Game 3 of last year’s Stanley Cup finals. At that point, the Bruins were all but cramming to find life with a two-games-to-none deficit already glowering at them.
With 5:07 gone in the scoreless first period, the opposing Vancouver Canucks already had a 4-1 advantage in the shooting gallery, but Horton was touring the puck down the center alley.
His endeavor to initiate Boston’s first major threat of the night came to an unsettling halt when backchecker Aaron Rome threw a late hit along the blue line.
After a lengthy delay to get Horton off the ice and out to Mass General Hospital, his teammates briefly took control of the shot clock, 7-5, over a five-minute power play. Although Vancouver subsequently thrust seven unanswered stabs at Tim Thomas before intermission, the Bruins proceeded to unleash their carbonation onto the next new sheet of ice.
The short-term and long-term upshots, respectively, were a series-reversing, 8-1 romp in Game 3 and eventually a seven-game championship triumph.
The state of the Bruins in more recent weeks is not entirely contrary. They were in the midst of, to borrow head coach Claude Julien’s adjective, a mediocre 4-3-1 funk going into a Jan. 22 bout with the Philadelphia Flyers.
At 2:49 of the second period, Horton endured his second confirmed concussion as a Bruin when Tom Sestito bowled him over after he had dumped the puck behind the Philadelphia goal line.
Leading, 3-1, at that point, Boston briefly spilled its lead but ultimately prevailed in a shootout. However, in the month since Horton returned to the sidelines, the Bruins have gone 4-7-0 and failed to win a single set of a back-to-back games.
All the while, they have stalled in their footrace for first place in the Eastern Conference with the New York Rangers. That derby is becoming exponentially less of a contest while the Ottawa Senators are stealthily gaining on the Bruins for tops in the Northeast Division.
Horton, and now Rich Peverley as well, may be sorely missed on the score sheet in this downturn. But there is only so much the Bruins can do to control that.
In turn, the best they can do for themselves and their sidelined teammates is to emotionally incentivize themselves the same way they did in last year’s championship series.
There ought to be a bench-wide, concomitant sense of a spiritual wound to go with Horton’s injury, in particular. But having done it once before, the Bruins should use that as a means of turning themselves into a perilously wounded bear.
If need be, although there is no sense in making it public, they could privately harbor a sting from the fact that Sestito never heard from league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan after the Jan. 22 game.
In both cases, the recipient of the hit let the puck go roughly a full second before absorbing contact, and the checker in question could have easily projected the opponent’s forward clear. Yet neither Lucic nor Sestito made any effort to avoid a collision or to at least minimize the impact of their late hit.
And not unlike Miller, Horton briefly continued to play after getting up but did not return for the third period and then went on injured reserve with concussion symptoms.
Had Lucic been suspended for the Miller hit, which he well could have been without giving Boston any legitimate cause to gripe, the Bruins would certainly have a case for Sestito to face a comparable penalty. But either way, it does not change the fact that Horton is once again forced to sit and watch at one of the most critical points of the season.
The Bruins do not need to draw any more incentive to avenge Horton from the fact that Sestito faced no formal discipline. They can motivate themselves enough by merely remembering what both Horton and the more recently injured Peverley have meant to them since their respective arrivals and striving to repay them by staying in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
Naturally, Philadelphia’s March 17 visit for the season-series finale will be touchy for the TD Garden masses, especially under the assumption that Horton will not be back in action by then.
But the Bruins will need to focus on achieving what they failed to attain when Matt Cooke’s Penguins visited for the first time after the Marc Savard incident and what the Sabres could not claim in Boston’s first visit after the Lucic-Miller episode.