THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Horton a hero again

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By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / May 28, 2011

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As the minutes kept ticking away and the only thing changing on the scoreboard was the number of shots — no goals, no penalties — a palpable certainty took hold at TD Garden.

It would take only one.

Either by fluke or fine form, one goal was going to determine the Eastern Conference championship, and decide which team would be flying to Vancouver for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.

With a building and a city waiting to erupt, Nathan Horton finally provided the reason. His one shining moment, on his sixth and final shot of a tense, defensive struggle, was the only offense the Bruins would need. Horton’s goal with 7 minutes and 33 seconds remaining gave the Bruins a 1-0 win against Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last night, clinching the organization’s first appearance in the Cup finals since 1990.

“It definitely feels good to get the game-winner, but it feels better to know that we’re going to the Stanley Cup [finals],’’ said Horton. “It’s all about team here. In the end, it doesn’t really matter who scores the goals, but it does matter who’s moving on, and we are.’’

The top line of Horton, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci played like it was an elimination game, combining for 13 of the Bruins’ 38 shots. Krejci also did some unheralded dirty work, winning 14 of his 17 faceoffs.

Horton may have scored the goal, but it was Krejci who set it up and deserves a chunk of the credit. Taking a pass from Andrew Ference against the Lightning’s 1-3-1 zone, Krejci used his speed to charge down the left side, with Horton initially to his left. When Krejci slowed the play slightly, Horton skated behind him and raced toward the crease. Despite Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer’s attempt to block the pass through the slot, Krejci zipped one toward Horton’s direction, the puck meeting Horton’s stick at the edge of the goal line. Goalie Dwayne Roloson had no chance.

“We got good speed going into their zone, Horty drove the net, and I just tried to find his stick,’’ said Krejci, who had a team-high five goals in the seven-game series and leads the Bruins with 10 in the playoffs. “It all worked out.’’

Said Horton, who had three goals and four assists against the Lightning and now has eight goals in his first trip through the postseason: “I didn’t have to do much. I just drove down to the net. I just wanted to keep my stick on the ice. He’s such a good playmaker, great passer, and he passed it right to my stick. Krejci made an unbelievable pass.’’

Roloson had stopped 29 shots through two periods, but Tim Thomas and the Bruins’ defense were even better, holding Tampa Bay to 17. With so much at stake, and despite the fact the Bruins had dictated much of the play the first 40 minutes, one bounce, one break, one rush might play the pivotal part.

The Bruins stuck to their plan, outshooting the Lightning every period.

“We had so many opportunities, for the puck to finally go in was a sigh of relief,’’ said Brad Marchand (four shots). “[Horton’s line] is unbelievable. We knew we weren’t going to win if they didn’t come up big, and they did. They came up big again tonight with the goal.’’

The only goal, capping the only 1-0 game played by the Bruins in the playoffs so far.

Horton, Krejci, and Lucic, close much of the night, finally struck, sending a fan base starving for a parade one giant step closer. But don’t gas up the Duck Boats just yet, Lucic warned.

“It’s only 12 wins,’’ said the Vancouver native, poised to head home and play for everything in front of family and friends. “You need 16 to get the holy grail.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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