Bruins vs. Blackhawks: How Nathan Horton Injury Impacts 2013 Stanley Cup Finals

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Bruins vs. Blackhawks: How Nathan Horton Injury Impacts 2013 Stanley Cup Finals

The Boston Bruins blew a 3-1 third-period lead in Game 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night and lost 4-3 in triple overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks.

But the difficult defeat wasn't the only disappointing result of the series opener for Boston.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien may also have to make line adjustments if first-line winger Nathan Horton is unable to play Saturday. Horton was injured in the first overtime period of Game 1 while the Bruins were on a power play.

As the video below shows, Horton was battling for position to the right of the Blackhawks net with defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, but it didn't appear that there was much contact between the two players.

Being forced to win without Horton in Game 1 wasn't an unfamiliar situation for the Bruins. They lost him for the final four games of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final when Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome delivered a vicious hit to his head, resulting in a concussion.

Fortunately for Boston, Horton may not have to miss multiple games with what is an upper-body injury. TSN's Darren Dreger reported on his Game 2 status Thursday morning:

In the afternoon, the Bruins announced that Horton is officially "day-to-day."

Boston was able to adjust two years ago without one of its best forwards, but will have a tougher time winning without Horton in 2013 because the Blackhawks are a much better defensive team with stronger goaltending than the 2011 Canucks.

What does Horton's absence from the lineup mean for the rest of the Cup Final?

For starters, it breaks up Boston's top line that features Horton alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic, which has been the most productive trio in the playoffs with a league-leading 57 points. This line contributed to the Bruins' first two goals in Game 1, both of which were scored by Lucic.

Not having a top-tier power forward like Horton in the lineup makes the Bruins a less physical team and leaves them without one of their most talented goal scorers.

Horton is second on the team in scoring with 18 points and in goals scored with seven, three of which were game-winners. He's a clutch playoff performer who can be relied on in late-game situations, and his plus/minus rating of 22 is the best in the postseason and only six away from Wayne Gretzky's all-time playoff record of 28.

If the Bruins don't have Horton at any point in this series, their depth needs to come through. Boston's bottom six was dominated in Game 1, tallying zero points at even strength, while Chicago's third and fourth lines accounted for three of the team's four goals (five points total), including the overtime-winner by Andrew Shaw.

Boston needs depth players such as Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, Kaspars Daugavins and Daniel Paille to produce offensively in Horton's absence.  

Peverley took Horton's spot on the first line in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and scored two goals in his debut, but he won't get that same opportunity in this series. The speedy winger is in the midst of a horrible postseason with one goal and a minus-six rating in 16 games. Meanwhile, Kelly and Daugavins have a combined zero goals scored.

The best decision for Julien to make is promoting Jaromir Jagr to the first line with Krejci and Lucic, and then putting young star Tyler Seguin on the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Jagr fits the first line's style of play better than Seguin because he wins puck battles along the boards and stick handles well in traffic. He also protects the puck well and has chemistry with Krejci.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Tyler Seguin

Moving Seguin back to the second line, where he has played in the majority of his games dating back to the start of last season, might be the move that sparks an offensive resurgence from the former No. 2 overall draft pick.

Seguin is the Bruins' most highly-skilled forward, but he's failed to make an impact in his last 35 playoff games with just nine points (three goals and six assists).

He led the team in scoring last season while playing with Bergeron and Marchand, and for the Bruins to win this series, they need the 21-year-old winger to be productive offensively. One goal and four assists in 17 games is unacceptable for a player with his kind of skill set.

The absence of Horton makes Seguin the most important Bruins forward in this series. Even though he didn't score in Game 1, he was skating well, made an impact defensively and earned an assist on the power play. But creating chances isn't good enough. He needs to capitalize on these scoring opportunities for the Bruins offense so the team can win the Cup.

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Boston doesn't have anyone who's been sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch (including Carl Soderberg and Jordan Caron) to give this team additional scoring if Horton is hurt. Seguin and Jagr, who have one goal between them, must improve in his absence.

The Bruins' depth has been one of their biggest strengths since their Cup-winning season in 2011, and it will be fiercely tested for the rest of this series against the Blackhawks if Horton's injury prevents him from playing.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he will also be a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained first hand or from NHL media notes.

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