BOSTON - Any questions about whether or not Chad Johnson is ready for the backup job in Boston should have been answered on Thursday night.
The 27-year-old Johnson had his rough patch when he kicked out the rebound of a Nick Foligno shot right into the slot, and watched helplessly as Foligno shoveled a backhander past him for the tying goal in the second period.
“It was a tough one,” admitted Johnson after the Bruins' 3-2 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. “It’s kind of one of those plays where the guy was driving the net too, and you try and block it. You’ve got to respect the guy driving in case he tips that.
“I just came and tried to be in position. It hit my toe, about two inches above my stick, and it’s hard to really control those. I tried to get back to the middle and he kind of made a little backhander there. You want to control those, it just sometimes doesn’t happen.”
But Johnson redoubled his efforts in the final 20 minutes, made 12 saves in a third period that was carried by the Blue Jackets, and earned the win. It probably shouldn’t have come down to Johnson being that good in the third given it was a miserable Blue Jackets team that Boston was playing, and given the B’s goaltending understudy hadn’t played in 12 days.
Still, those are the kinds of conditions an NHL backup goaltender will find himself faced with as part of the gig, particularly if he’s in a tandem with a franchise No. 1 goaltender such as Tuukka Rask. So, Johnson simply embraced the whole experience on Thursday night, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs in a puck-stopping partnership with Rask.
“It’s just nice to get two points. I get in once every two weeks, and I try and work as hard as I can in practice to make myself ready for these situations,” said Johnson, who is 2-1-0 with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in three games with the Bruins. “The guys I think know that there might be a little bit of rust every now and then, and they battled really hard for me. It was a big two points for us and we were all excited to get the two points.
“I felt OK," Johnson said. "I can’t say I felt great, I think it took me a little bit to kind of really mentally get in it. Sometimes, you’ve kind of got to fake it every now and then, you know, kind of show that you’re feeling great. I kind of just battled.”
Johnson did finally feel great in the third period, backstopping a 2-2 game after he’d given up the one he’d like to have back to Foligno. The former Coyotes and Rangers goaltender decided that would be it for the Blue Jackets offense, and slammed the door in the final 20 minutes.
A number of Boston defensive breakdowns allowed Columbus to outshoot the Bruins by a 12-7 margin, and the scoring chances were of pretty good quality. Ryan Johansen found himself on the receiving end of a pass at the doorstep that turned into a hard, accurate shot on the Boston net.
Johnson kicked Johansen’s bid away, and then smothered a partial breakaway for Cam Atkinson in another golden offensive chance down the middle of the ice when the Bruins defense faltered. The B’s backup netminder had to make one more quality save on an Atkinson spin-o-rama shot later in the period. The Bruins then started to pull back the momentum in the second half of the third period.
“I kind of just battled and got more comfortable. In the third period, I felt great. The guys did a good job killing penalties and really forcing them to shoot pucks from some tough areas. It was just good to get the two points.
“The second goal of the game was at a big time in the game to let up that kind of rebound. So I know I had to do whatever I could to help us win it in the third. It felt good to be able to do that.”
With the team embarking on a section of the schedule where the Bruins will play 10 games in 17 days, they needed to get positive, winning performances from Johnson after not seeing enough to evaluate in Buffalo or Long Island. They liked what they saw in the 32-save performance against a Blue Jackets team that was at least playing hard. That adds plenty of promise to Boston’s goaltending tandem.
“When you look in the third period, they had a couple of good chances especially on the power play; point blank shots and he made some good saves,” said Claude Julien. “[It was] little breakdowns where he had to face guys one-on-one and I thought he played really well. We were really pleased for him and I’m sure the players are happy for him as well.
“He wasn’t bad the last time out [vs. the Islanders], we didn’t play well in front of him. I think he deserved better and he got better tonight.”
Now, Johnson will sit again most likely for the next couple of weeks until the Bruins once again host the Blue Jackets on Nov. 30 as the second half of back-to-back games at the end of November. Such is the lot in life of an NHL backup, but Chad Johnson wouldn’t have it any other way right now.