DALLAS — Chad Johnson was in a tough spot.
On Thursday night at American Airlines Center, the Bruins asked their backup goalie to give them a win. It was Johnson’s first start since Dec. 19. Johnson was playing behind a team whose structure, according to their boss, had collapsed.
And then he got stuck in the face.
At 12:28 of the second period, the blade of Zdeno Chara’s stick poked through Johnson’s mask. The blade poked Johnson’s left cheek, grazed his left eye, and popped out his contact lens. For the rest of the period, Johnson played without his left contact and an open cut below his eye.
That didn’t bother Johnson. With the Bruins desperate for two points, Johnson delivered a 32-save performance to backstop his team to a 4-2 win.
“He was good tonight,” said coach Claude Julien. “I thought he played a real solid game. He was square to the puck all night long. Good outing for him.”
An unfortunate bounce and a mad scramble were the only two blemishes on Johnson’s watch. In the third, Erik Cole was getting to his skates and wasn’t even looking when Tyler Seguin sent a puck his way. The puck glanced off Cole’s blade and redirected past Johnson at 1:18 to tie the game at 1-1.
Later in the third, with the Bruins leading, 3-1, the Stars pushed their hardest. Johnson made a first save on Alex Goligoski. But with most of the population of greater Dallas in his crease, Johnson couldn’t do anything to turn back Jamie Benn’s followup bid.
But Benn’s goal wasn’t enough. That’s because the Bruins saved their best for last. The Bruins put three pucks into the Dallas net in the third, capped by a Patrice Bergeron empty-netter with 15.8 seconds remaining.
“I thought it was a really hard-fought game,” said Chara. “They’re a good team. They play really well at home. We had a couple bad bounces that went in against us. But we found a way to score some at the right time. That gave us a huge victory.”
The Bruins pulled ahead in the third in a trademark way — forcing a mistake and capitalizing on it.
The Stars were in good shape. Cole, who had tied the game earlier in the period, controlled the puck in the corner. But Cole never made it out with the puck.
Bergeron overwhelmed Cole on the forecheck to force a turnover. The puck popped out to Brad Marchand, who drove to the net. Kari Lehtonen (37 saves) turned back Marchand’s first shot. But the winger didn’t quit. On his second attempt, Marchand pushed the puck through Lehtonen’s pads at 3:18 to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
This hasn’t been the best year for Marchand. There have been far too many peaks and valleys in his game. But if Marchand can turn in more efforts like he did Thursday, he may have found his groove again.
Marchand managed the puck well. He was strong on the forecheck and good on the walls. When his chance was there, he buried it.
“We wanted to make sure we tried to right the ship,” Marchand said. “We’ve been playing half-decent lately. But we know we can be a lot better. I think we did a really good job tonight of sticking with it and playing a pretty good game.”
The Bruins grabbed a two-goal lead later in the third. When Ray Whitney was called for hooking at 14:32, the Bruins hadn’t scored on 18 straight man-advantage opportunities. Because of Dougie Hamilton’s absence, Chara, usually the net-front man on the first unit, has been on the point on the second formation. Milan Lucic, who’s been roaming below the circles on the No. 1 unit, replaced Chara in front.
The moves didn’t work in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Toronto. But against the Stars, Lucic broke through.
As David Krejci controlled the puck at the point, Lucic set up in front. Krejci whipped the puck on goal. Lucic raised his stick and redirected the puck past Lehtonen at 15:46. Lucic had broken the team’s power-play skid. It was his first goal since Dec. 21.
Lucic acknowledged, however, that the goal might be waved off. The referees had to go to video to determine whether Lucic’s stick was above the crossbar when he tipped the puck. Review concluded it was a good goal. The game-winner, in fact.
“It was close,” Lucic said with a smile. “I knew it was going to be really close. Thankfully they called it on the ice. I imagine the conversation was that it was inconclusive on the video. I’ll take them anyway they can. Krech and [Torey Krug] did a good job up top switching and creating that shot. I was able to get a good tip there. It ends up being a big goal.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.