Nathan Horton was on familiar ground but in an unfamiliar position.

The Bruins returned from the NHL All-Star break Tuesday night with a win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.

Horton played six seasons with the Florida Panthers before being traded to the B's in the offseason along with center Gregory Campbell for defenseman Dennis Wideman and draft picks. While with the Panthers, the winger had grown accustomed to emerging from the All-Star break with an uphill battle just to get a sniff of the NHL playoffs. In fact, Horton never played a meaningful April game with the Panthers. He senses that's about to change.

"We have such great guys on this team and great players," Horton said yesterday. "We have jelled together and we have a lot of people who can score. It's a team game and it's nice to have all this talent. It's a time (of the season) where we need to play hard and get wins, and right now I'm feeling good going into the second half."

After winning eight of their last 11 games, the Bruins began the unofficial second half of the season in first place in the Northeast Division. The race to the postseason gets more intense going forward, and Horton is happy to be operating from a position of strength instead of desperation.

"We have so much skill here, and it's a lot of fun coming to the rink knowing you are in first place or near the top or you are going to be in the playoffs," Horton said. "That's what it is all about, it's not about ice time or goals or assists. It's about getting to the playoffs and winning a Stanley Cup, and that is what is exciting because we have a good chance for that."

Horton began the season on a furious scoring pace, but in recent days was mired in a slump. Until scoring Tuesday night against the Hurricanes, he had gone 10 games without a goal. He is fifth on the team in points with 29 (13 goals, 16 assists) and is a plus-15.