Nathan Horton insists that he’s ready to return, but Bruins take cautious approach

There were plenty of controversial hits during the 2010-11 season, but Aaron Rome’s late check on Nathan Horton drew arguably the most attention because it took place during the Stanley Cup finals. Some might look back at that cheap shot as the turning point of the series, as it appeared to light a fire under the Boston Bruins for at least the rest of that game while the Vancouver Canucks were cemented as villains in many fans’ eyes. It was still a sickening sight to see Horton on a stretcher after that ugly hit, though.

The Bruins managed to win that series with Horton sidelined, but the bigger question for the former Florida Panthers forward is: how long will he feel the effects of that hit? (Also, some might wonder if he’s having any issues with his other injury: a separated shoulder that he fought through in previous playoff games.)

If you ask Horton, he’s already primed for a return to the ice. The hard-shooting winger said as much about a month ago, but Horton is working hard to prove that he’s healthy enough for the rigors of the 2011-12 season. That being said, he doesn’t blame the Bruins for taking a cautious approach – the team needs only to look at Marc Savard’s struggles for an example of a hasty and ill-advised comeback.

On Friday, Horton insisted he hasn’t suffered any setbacks with either injury, and the team is just proceeding cautiously by keeping him out of games early in camp.

“I feel good,” Horton said. “It’s nice to try to get back into things. I haven’t had any setbacks. I feel fine. I look forward to feeling better and getting better on the ice.

“Obviously I want to get back [playing],” Horton added. “I’m here, I want to play. But it’s nice to ease my way back into it and get back into things. [It] gives me a chance to feel good and come in and hopefully feel better.”

After Friday, the Bruins will have four more exhibition games before the regular season starts, and Horton is expected to see action in at least a couple of those preseason contests. He’s just not certain when the first opportunity to play this year will come.

While the Bruins managed to win those final contests without him, Horton combines with David Krejci and Milan Lucic to form a top line that brings a formidable mix of scoring talent and grit to the table. Of course, for Horton to be effective, he cannot worry about the side effects of battling opponents, though.

Hopefully the Bruins remain prudent with Horton’s rehab process because the large forward has plenty of games left in him at 26 years old. At the same time, it’s understandable if there’s some eagerness in trying to reunite one of the best lines of the 2011 playoffs, too.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.