February 2, 2014

Johnson thriving at just the right time for Bruins

By Jesse Connolly

Chad Johnson stopped all 22 shots he faced on Saturday against Edmonton. (Photo by Sharon Bradley/New England Hockey Journal)

The first period of the Bruins’ 4-0 win over the Oilers on Saturday seemed to perfectly encapsulate Chad Johnson’s first season as Boston’s backup goaltender.

After the puck dropped, it took Edmonton over five minutes to register a shot on goal, as Johnson idly waited to see some action in the B’s hardly-vacated defensive zone. When finally called upon to make a stop, he stoned winger Ales Hemsky’s breakaway bid, keeping the game scoreless.

“I think you always want to make the first save of the game and sort of get comfortable, so to be able to make that save and be on a breakaway is sort of just something you can build off of for the rest of the game,” said Johnson, following his second career NHL shutout. “It was sort of a weird period because I only had I think one more shot the whole time, so again it was just nice to make that save early.”

Johnson’s been no stranger to coming up big when given the chance, and not just during stretches of offensive dormancy for the opposition. In the last two weeks, coach Claude Julien has given the 27-year-old netminder four starts. He made just eight in the first three-plus months of the 2013-14 campaign.

The Bruins have been victorious in all four of Johnson’s recent starts, lifting his record on the year to 10-3-0.

“It’s been nice,” said Johnson, whose 2.14 goals-against average trails Tuukka Rask’s (2.12) by the slimmest of margins. “I want to get in as many games as I can. I know my role, and it’s not to be in every night but it’s to be in when sort of called upon, so it’s nice to be able to get in more games and get in there and get more comfortable, and just try to help the team win, so it’s nice playing more often.”

Johnson’s recent run couldn’t have come at a better time for a Boston squad that’s looking to ensure Rask isn’t overtaxed heading into the Olympics. The projected starting goalie for Finland has already played in a career-high 41 regular-season games.

"He's played a lot in the first half, and we sense it,” Julien said of Rask. “But at the same time, like anybody else, you want him to do well in the Olympics. I'm not going to sacrifice not playing him here for the Olympics, but we have an opportunity to not over-utilize him.

“So I'm using that, and when he comes back, I'm hoping to get an opportunity to use Chad so he can get a little bit of rest, because that will be a stressful and probably a really busy time in those next two weeks in Sochi. That goes for the rest of the guys, too. I'm not just talking about Tuukka, but for the other players as well."

Johnson’s certainly cognizant of the situation as well, but expressed that, like every backup goaltender, you always have to be prepared.

“I just try to be ready for any situation if it’s playing back-to-back or whatever it is,” he said. “I look at the calendar a little bit ahead. I try to stay focused on just the present day and sort of tomorrow, so I had no idea that I’d be playing this much, but I think when you look at the Olympic break coming up, you know that Tuukka might have a little more time off, especially after break as well with the whole back-to-backs coming up in March, so, yeah, I try not to look too far ahead.”

The former Ranger and Coyote also took some time to look back, relishing his first shutout as a member of the Black and Gold.

“It means a lot,” said Johnson, who stopped all 22 shots he faced. “For me, it’s always just about the wins, but I think when you can add a shutout there it’s just kind of like a bonus point for myself. To get it at home, too, it’s nice. It’s always nice to get a shutout.”

With 17 games on tap in March, Johnson’s increased workload will likely carry over following the Olympic break.

"It will be a heavy month,” said Julien, “and we'll have Tuukka coming back from the Olympics. It will be important to feel good about having Chad in net and knowing he can do the job."

For anyone doubting whether Johnson will be up to that task, Julien summed that up in five words during his postgame press conference: “His record speaks for itself.”

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com