Nathan Horton was hurt before he got injured.

The Bruins right winger had shoulder problems before the start of the playoffs, but the worst of his pain was inflicted during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay. Horton took a vicious hit from Lightning center Nate Thompson near the Bruins bench with 10 minutes to play in the first period.

Horton exited the ice for treatment but returned to take his regular shifts on the first line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Horton ignored the pain and scored the game's only goal at 12:27 of the third to put the Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.

"It was mostly the whole playoffs he was playing with a pretty severe shoulder separation," Bruins coach Claude Julien said prior to the team's exit interviews yesterday at the Garden. "Guys knew not to hit him (in practice) and that kind of stuff, but we weren't going to hold him back. He didn't care; he was going to play through anything.

"Not only did you people learn a lot about Nathan because of that, but so did we as a organization."

Before being traded to the Bruins last June, Horton played six seasons with the Florida Panthers without ever competing in a playoff game. He was living a fantasy when he finally got his chance.

He scored the game-winner in overtime in Game 5 of the Bruins' first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens, as well as the series-winning OT tally in Game 7.