BOSTON -- What a difference a month has made for Chad Johnson.
The Bruins backup netminder was in the middle of his worst struggles of the season in mid-December after losing two games in a row, and posting a meager .909 save percentage for the month. The low point was a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 19, and turned out to be his last start for the Bruins until getting the call last week on the road against the Dallas Stars.
It had been nearly a month between starts, but now Johnson has started two of Boston’s last three games while posting wins over the Stars, and a 3-2 decision over the Los Angeles Kings in a Monday afternoon matinee at TD Garden. Johnson has stopped 53-of-57 shots in the back-to-back wins, and his coach can plainly see that confidence has returned to the goaltender’s game.
“It was good I think this was a little different game [than the win over Dallas], it just had a different feel to it,” said Johnson. “But I felt pretty good in there, and the guys battled really hard.
“It was a real tight game and we killed some penalties, and scored some timely goals. It was just a good game.”
That has allowed Julien to give Tuukka Rask some needed rest, and step away from him in the second game of a tough back-to-back challenge against the Blackhawks and Kings.
“It’s just what we had talked about," Julien said. "As the season went on, we’d probably have to look into [the goaltending rotation] a little closer. I thought [Sunday] was a real big game where both goaltenders had to work really hard to keep their teams in the game. I thought it was important for us -- for the reasons I said earlier about LA being here (while the B’s traveled back from Chicago) and so on and so forth -- to have a fresh goaltender in there.
“I think the way [Johnson] played in Dallas, there’s no doubt we had the confidence to put him back in there because he had played so well. And we wanted a fresh goaltender. That was the main reason behind it.”
The 27-year-old Johnson now has a .932 save percentage during the month of January, and should get his number called a couple more times before a well-deserved Olympic break. Then the Bruins will be banking on Johnson providing the same kind of relief for Rask once things unreasonably busy in March -- a busy month when four back-to-back games will test Boston’s goaltending depth while attempting to ensure their franchise Finn is properly rested for the postseason.