Claude Julien loved what he saw out of Nathan Horton against Tampa Bay in his best game of the season.

The Bruins coach liked it so much he left the right winger out on the ice with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley in the closing seconds with an empty net so Horton could go for his third career hat trick. Alas Horton came up just short when he rang the right post twice in the final minute while scrambling to shoot at the open net, but that still didn’t change the power forward’s yeoman effort in a 4-2 win for the Bruins over the Lightning at the Tampa Tribune Forum.

“It really doesn’t matter,” said Horton about the hat trick. “We won the game so everyone’s happy and that’s what matters most.”

Horton did finish off two of Boston’s four goals and set the tone with his score just 71 seconds into the first period. The right winger jumped all over the rebound of a Dougie Hamilton point shot and flipped the puck into the vacant net, and prevented the Bolts from taking an early lead and dropping into their infamous 1-3-1 trap.

Horton said he’s been fooling around with his sticks lately and maybe he’ll keep that up.

“My sticks have been breaking so I’ve been fooling around with the curve a little bit,” said Horton, with a smile. “I’m trying to keep it fun and keep it interesting. I’ll probably do the same thing in the next time and try to get the same curve.”

But Horton didn’t stop there. Reunited with Milan Lucic and David Krejci after their left winger partner missed last weekend’s win over the Winnipeg Jets due to personal reasons, all three were flying. Horton led all skaters with six shots on net, Lucic was pounding bodies with a game-high six registered hits and Krejci was controlling possessions down low with his smart cycling game.