If there is one member of the Bruins who knows exactly how the two-week Olympic break will affect him, it’s Chad Johnson. The backup goaltender has gotten used to sitting for that length of time — or longer — in the first half of the season. But with a busy March schedule, the Bruins will no longer have the luxury of limiting him to bench-door duty.
Nor do they need to.
After going through a difficult stretch in December — losing to the woeful Sabres on a wraparound goal — Johnson got a seat on the bench, even though it was only his second loss of the season.
He didn’t start a game from that loss on Dec. 19 to his win against the Stars on Jan. 16, ceding what would have been his start to Niklas Svedberg on Jan. 2 vs. the Predators. The Bruins maintained they simply wanted to get a look at their top goalie prospect. But that didn’t help Johnson, who was forced to replay that Buffalo game with nothing to replace it.
“You want to get back in there,” said Johnson. “That’s the thing with a backup — it’s tough being a backup, because you don’t play all the time, so you’re only as good as your last game.
“To have to sit on one and not play for, like, three weeks, it was tough because you want to get back in there and just play better and help the team win. But it’s the game, it’s just my role, and I kind of have to embrace it and I try and do my best with it.”
Since then, Johnson’s playing time — and performance — has picked up. He got three starts in 12 days, earning wins against the Stars, Kings, and Islanders in a stretch in which the Bruins have been as good as they’ve been all season.
“I think Chad lately has been really, really good, just square to the puck and doesn’t overplay anything,” coach Claude Julien said after Monday’s win over New York. “Pucks are hitting him right now.
“As I say every year, with these kind of schedules and this kind of travel, you need your two goaltenders to be at the top of their game, and right now I think he is.”
It’s something they’ll need him to continue. The Bruins return from the Olympic break to face a demanding March, in which they’ll play 17 games.
And while Johnson and most of his teammates will get time off, Tuukka Rask will be in Sochi, playing for Team Finland, something that could put even more pressure on Johnson when the NHL returns at the end of the month.
“It’ll be two weeks, so it’s sort of like between some of my starts that I’ve had,” said Johnson, who has a vacation to Mexico planned. “I’ve had two, even three weeks in between my starts, so I think for myself it’s just when the time comes, just sort of regrouping and getting back for the week and practicing, just getting ready for the second half.”
And, he hopes, maybe that will bring more regular action, as it has of late, with the backup proving worthy of the additional playing time.
“It’s nice,” he said. “You get in game rhythm a lot easier and just that preparation beforehand always comes a lot easier when you’re in games more consistently, closer together.
“You try and be as ready as possible when you’re not playing, but it’s still that focus, just that mentality isn’t the same compared to when you’re preparing to start.”
To finish their stretch of four games in six nights, the Bruins will face the Canadiens, a team they have faced only once in the first two-thirds of the season, and that was up in Montreal.
But it might be as good a time as any to play the Canadiens, who had lost 5 of 6 before beating Carolina at home Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Bruins are playing some of their best hockey of the season, with six goals in each of their last three games.
“I think right now it’s really important that we continue to look at our game,” Julien said. “Our game’s been good, but it’s always a good game against the Montreal Canadiens, and it’s always been a great rivalry.
“But let’s not look at it so much as a rivalry more than we need to continue bringing our game to the table every night that we’re playing this week, and finish it off on a good note here with five games left before the Olympic break. And that’s where our whole focus is, and you’ve got to try to not get dragged into this big buildup that we have every time we play them.”
Montreal won the first matchup, 2-1, Dec. 5 in a game that saw Johnny Boychuk carted off on a stretcher with a back sprain.
Mum on McQuaid
There has been no update on the status of Adam McQuaid, who is out with a leg injury. The defenseman had been listed as day-to-day, but there seems to have been no progress since he left the Jan. 19 game against the Blackhawks . . . With their win over Florida at TD Garden Tuesday, the Bruins are now 17-2-2 in their last 21 games at home . . . The last time the Bruins scored six or more goals in three consecutive games was Nov. 5-12, 2011, when they did it in four straight, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.