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.

Vasilevskiy shines again as Lightning take top spot in NHL

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Tuesday’s game in St. Louis was a showdown featuring the top two teams in the NHL.

In the end it was the Lightning picking up the 3-0 win to extend their current winning streak to five games and to reclaim sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the NHL.

Their win improves them to 22-6-2 on the season and puts them two points ahead of the Blues despite having played two fewer games.

It was another impressive showing for Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been one of the underrated stars of this year’s Lightning team. Most of the attention has been directed to forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (and deservedly so!) but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Vasilevskiy, in his first full season as the Lighting’s full-time starter, has been one of the best goalies in the league so far.

Tuesday’s game was his third shutout of the season, and after his 32-save performance against the Blues his .933 save percentage is among the best in the NHL, while his 20 wins (in only 25 starts) are tops in the league. Nobody else in the league has more than 17.

While Vasilevskiy was shining in net again, Kucherov scored his 21st goal of the season to move back into a tie with Alex Ovechkin for the top spot in the league. It was also his 42nd point which moved him into a tie with Stamkos for the league lead.

Brayden Point also continued his breakout season by opening the scoring with his 13th goal of the season. He also added an assist on Tyler Johnson‘s third period goal.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

John Tortorella had no time for questions after blowout loss (Video)

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Since being hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets John Tortorella has seemed to be a kinder, gentler coach.

The blow ups and battles with the media don’t seem to happen as much. We don’t get as many rants.

He just does not seem as angry all the time.

Losing 7-2 at home to the Edmonton Oilers, however, might change a few things.

That it was happened to the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night and Tortorella was in no mood to answer question about the game.

His press conference consisted of him stepping to the podium, saying there is no point in answering questions about the game, then leaving.

Here it is in all of its glory.

The only question we have: Is this shorter than the night he said the New York Rangers “sucked from head to toe?”

(Oddly enough, that game was also against the Edmonton Oilers).

That press conference lasted, roughly, 14 seconds from the time he started talking until the time he walked away (and also included the line “I know you have a job to do”).

Tonight’s comes in at just around 12 seconds. So we might have a record for the shortest John Tortorella press conference of all time.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski has died at age 49, according to the Calgary Flames. No cause of death was given.

Zalapski, a native of Edmonton, played 637 NHL games for Calgary, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal and Philadelphia from 1987 to 2000.

He was with the Flames from 1993 to 1998.

“We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey, made Calgary his home following his playing career, represented our alumni executive and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family,” Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said Tuesday in a statement.

“This is a terrible loss of a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey. We express our sincere condolences to the Zalapski family.”

Zalapski was a member of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

He had 99 goals, 285 assists and 684 penalty minutes in the NHL. Zalapski was named to the all-rookie team in 1989 and participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 1993.

Zalapski played stints in Austria and Switzerland after his NHL career and appeared in 11 games for the United Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Wings in 2004-05.

He was the fourth overall pick by the Penguins in the 1986 entry draft.

Taylor Hall puts on a show as Devils end Kings’ winning streak

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The New Jersey Devils put an end to the Los Angeles Kings’ eight-game winning streak on Tuesday night with a rather convincing 5-1 win.

The Devils dominated in pretty much every aspect of the game, limiting the Kings to just 17 shots on goal and scoring five goals against a team that had not allowed more than two goals (and never more than three) during its winning streak.

The star of the game for the Devils was most certainly forward Taylor Hall.

Hall continued what could be a career year with a pair of goals, including this highlight reel play in the second period that saw him force a turnover, split through the Kings’ defense (including Drew Doughty!), then beat Jonathan Quick with a backhander.

With that performance on Tuesday Hall is now up to 11 goals and 31 total points on the season.

His first year with the Devils wasn’t quite what he or the team wanted, but he has bounced back in a big way this season. His performance, along with the development of young players Nico Hischier, Will Butcher, and Jesper Bratt have the Devils back on track to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.