Johnston: High risk, high reward for Bruins’ Horton

Nathan Horton would be among the top names available on the free-agent market if an extension with the Bruins isn't reached after this series. Right now that appears to be the furthest thing from his mind. (AP/Elise Amendola)

CHICAGO – Barring something unexpected, it looks like Nathan Horton will suit up for the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final on Saturday night.

Notably, the question not being asked around the United Center is “should he?”

That a player would play through pain and discomfort is simply a given in hockey. That he would potentially risk further injury less than three weeks before becoming a free agent does not seem to raise much alarm either.

It speaks to the allure of the Stanley Cup that Horton is so desperate to return immediately.

While the severity of his shoulder injury isn’t known, it was obviously bad enough in Game 1 that he had to sit out the two-plus periods of overtime in Chicago’s 4-3 victory.

Horton would be among the top names available on the free-agent market if an extension with the Bruins isn’t reached after this series. Right now that appears to be the furthest thing from his mind.

“They’re going to deal with his contract after the season but for him I don’t think he thinks about it at all,” linemate David Krejci said after Friday’s practice. “He wants to be on the ice with us and he wants to win so badly.

“I hope he’s going to get ready for (Game 2) and be on my side.”

There are some unique factors in Horton’s case, not the least of which is the fact that he was relegated to the sidelines by a concussion for the final four games of Boston’s victory in the 2011 Stanley Cup.

Horton chose not to speak with reporters on Friday after participating in an hour-long practice. But the overwhelming feeling coming out of the dressing room was that he would be back in his usual spot on the top line come Saturday night.

“He knows how it feels when you get hurt and you can’t finish a series off,” Krejci said. “He’s going to do everything he can (to return).”

Horton has been known to play at a high level when dealing with pain in the past.

In fact, he was one of the Bruins top players during the championship run two years ago and spent part of that spring nursing a severely separated shoulder. It was an “impressive” performance under trying circumstances, according to teammate Milan Lucic.

Horton’s presence in the lineup for Game 2 of this series would certainly be a boost for the Bruins.

No forward line has made as much of an impact during these playoffs as the Horton-Krejci-Lucic unit and that trio accounted for two of Boston’s three goals in the series opener against Chicago.

It stands to reason that they will need to continue playing a major role if the Bruins are going to win another Stanley Cup – motivation enough to play through an injury.

“Guys know what’s on the line every night,” pesky Bruins winger Brad Marchand said. “It’s something that we’ve dreamed about our whole lives and when it’s right there in front of you you’re willing to break bones, you’re willing to get cuts and hurt your body to win the trophy.

“It’s so glorious at the end of the day to win that thing.”

Added defenceman Dennis Seidenberg: “You sacrifice a lot just getting (to the final) and once you’re there you want to make sure you leave everything on the ice so you don’t have any regrets after.”

Of course, there is the potential reward that accompanies any risk Horton might assume by playing with an injury now. Reputations are made during the playoffs and he could provide further evidence that he is a big-game performer.

That is something teams will happily pay dearly for in the summer.

However, it isn’t the promise of more money that is driving most players at this stage of the season. Lifting the Stanley Cup is a life-changing experience that can’t be purchased.

“It’s really tough to explain the feelings once you win it,” Marchand said. “It’s so surreal. It’s tough to explain (why you would play with an injury now) when you’re not in the dressing room, but I think any hockey player – anyone who plays the sport – would know what I’m talking about.”

You need look no further than the long list of injury news that arrives like clockwork a day or two after every team has been eliminated from the playoffs.

It happens without fail.

The reality is that once you get into June there simply aren’t many hockey players who don’t have some kind of ailment or another to attend to.

“It’s a very common thing in our sport, especially at this time of year,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Nobody wants to be left out or pushed out of a lineup. When you look at the Stanley Cup, what it means to you, there’s no doubt you don’t want to be denied that opportunity. Players are tough in this sport – they’ll play through a lot.

“There’s some on both teams right now. You’ll find out more when the series is over.”

It won’t be until then that Horton starts focusing on his next contract.

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