When Thursday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets started, Bruins goalie Chad Johnson had everything but confidence. As backup to Tuukka Rask, it’s Johnson’s job to work hard in practice, prepare to play, and then wait.
Johnson made his TD Garden debut Thursday, playing only his third game of the season and his first since a 3-1 loss to the Islanders Nov. 2 in the team’s poorest performance of the season. Diligent in his practice and preparation, Johnson was nonetheless a bit leery at the start.
“I felt OK. I can’t say I felt great,’’ Johnson said of the opening period. “It took me a little bit to kind of mentally get in. Sometimes you’ve kind of got to fake it, you know, every now and then — kind of show like you’re feeling great. But I just battled and got more comfortable. And in the third period, I felt great.’’
By the time Milan Lucic scored on an overtime breakaway to hand the Bruins a 3-2 victory, Johnson had made 32 saves, including a 12-for-12 stretch of the third period when the Blue Jackets’ offense came alive and the Bruins’ defense made a few mistakes. Johnson turned a way a handful of point-blank shots, leading the Bruins through two successful penalty kills in the third. The 27-year-old goalie acknowledged it was a boost of confidence.
“It’s just nice to get two points,’’ said Johnson. “I get in once every two weeks. I try and work as hard as I can in practice to make myself ready for these situations so the guys know that, that there might be a little rust, and they battled really hard for me.’’
The teams reached the third period knotted at 2, Johnson’s only misstep a big rebound on a late-second-period Nick Foligno shot that the Columbus forward pounced on, snapping a backhander into the Bruins’ net to tie the game.
But as the Blue Jackets revved up in the third, Johnson looked both comfortable and confident. Early in the period, Johnson kicked out a difficult shot from Ryan Johansen off a pass from Brandon Dubinsky, one of a trifecta of sharp saves he made in quick succession.
“They came pretty hard in the third period,’’ said Johnson.
In overtime, Johnson made a clutch save on Foligno, snagging his high backhander with his glove.
“It was just kind of a spin-a-rama,’’ Johnson said. “Sometimes those are tough because he has his head down and it’s not the most accurate on the backhand, for any guy. So I just tried to read his stick and then I just kind of put my glove there and it hit my glove.’’
In overtime, Johnson noted, anything can happen. So he was excited when he saw Lucic take off with the puck.
“When I saw him go on the breakaway, I kind of put my head down and I was like, ‘Oh, please score,’ because these are points we need,’’ Johnson said. “There’s always teams you think you should get points off of, and we really wanted to get the two points tonight.’’
The Bruins were quick to celebrate with Johnson.
“He works so hard all year,’’ said Brad Marchand, “and we really wanted to have a great game for him. You know, you want to go to bat for your guys, and for your teammates, and with how hard he’s worked for us this year we wanted to return the favor.”
Coach Claude Julien, too, said he was glad to see Johnson celebrating a win, particularly after the team hung him out to dry on Long Island.
“I thought he was good.’’ said Julien. “When you look at the third period, they had a couple of good chances, especially on the power play, point-blank shots, and he made some good saves. [We had] little breakdowns where he had to face guys one-on-one. I thought he played really well. I’m really pleased for him and I’m sure the players are happy for him, as well.
“He wasn’t bad the last time out, we didn’t play well in front of him, so I think he deserved better, and he got better tonight.”