Commentary

Johnson providing quality backup

Bruins' No. 2 goalie winning games, giving Tuukka Rask a break ahead of Olympics

Updated: February 4, 2014, 8:45 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- At the start of this season, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien didn't know too much about goaltender Chad Johnson.

The 27-year-old earned the backup role behind starter Tuukka Rask, but Julien was curious how his goaltending tandem would work. After all, the Bruins have been spoiled with solid goaltending during the coach's tenure in Boston.

The Bruins' masked men were going to be tested this season, and after Saturday's 4-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden, Julien is pleased with the way it's working out.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask, Chad Johnson
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesChad Johnson celebrates his second career shutout with Tuukka Rask.

With the Winter Olympics approaching, and Rask one of the goalies for Finland, Julien has been monitoring his starter's workload, which is only going to get tougher because of the upcoming schedule, both in North America and in Sochi, Russia.

In order to keep Rask ready for the Olympics, and also fresh for when he returns, Julien has leaned heavily on Johnson of late, and the backup has done the job well. Even though he made only 22 saves against the Oilers, he helped the Bruins respond from their worst loss of the season, a 4-1 shellacking at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at TD Garden.

With the way Johnson has played the past five games, he's building his confidence, and the team's, too. "It's huge for us," Rask said after Saturday's game. "You need two good goalies throughout the season, because the season is so long. With March coming up, it's going to be a crazy, crazy month, so you're going to need two goalies. It's been good to see him get into this groove and helping us get the wins."

With the win, Johnson improves to 10-3-0. He has won his past four starts.

"His record speaks for itself," Julien said. "The way he played tonight, even though people are going to say he didn't get tested, we know that's as big of a challenge for a goaltender as any, especially when you're playing a team that has a lot of skill. He's been playing well. It's been great.

"It allows me to go about what I expect, as far as playing time for a goaltender, so you certainly haven't been forced to overutilize a goaltender, and that way it makes it real comfortable."

Johnson has played in five of the team's past seven games (four starts) and appears to be comfortable between the pipes.

"It's been nice. I want to get in as many games as I can," Johnson said. "I know my role, and it's not to be in every night, but it's to be in when called upon, so it's nice to be able to get in more games and get in there and get more comfortable and just try and help the team win, so it's nice playing more often."

[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmChad Johnson hands his stick to a fan after Boston's 4-0 win.

There's nothing flashy about Johnson. On the ice, his style is calm and conservative. Off the ice, he's quiet, well-spoken and gets along well with his teammates, including his goaltending partner. Rask is happy with the working relationship.

"Really good," Rask said. "He's a really nice guy and doesn't make too much noise about himself. He just works hard every day and shows up in the games that he has to play. The first part of the season was kind of tough for him because he didn't play that much. … Once he got more games, he got more comfortable, and he's been unbelievable for us."

Entering this season, Rask knew he would play the majority of the games, and he's on pace to set a single-season record for games played at this level. So far, he's 24-13-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a 92.8 save percentage in 41 games. He played 45 regular-season games during the 2009-2010 season.

Rask started the first seven games of this season before Johnson made his debut and earned a 5-2 win at Buffalo on Oct. 23. Since that season-long seven-game stretch, Rask has played five consecutive games twice, four consecutive games three times, three consecutive games once and two consecutive games three times, along with three other starts sprinkled in.

"He's played a lot in the first half, and we sense it. But at the same time, like anybody else, you want him to do well in the Olympics. I'm not going to sacrifice not playing him here for the Olympics, but we have an opportunity not to overutilize him," Julien said. "So I'm using that, and when he comes back, I'm hoping to get an opportunity to use Chad so he can get a little bit of rest, because that will be a stressful and probably a really busy time in those next two weeks in Sochi. That goes for the rest of the guys, too. I'm not just talking about Tuukka, but for the other players as well."

Still, Rask is the type of goalie who wants to play every night, every game. He also realizes that's unrealistic.

"It's good to get a break, but you can't be selfish," Rask said. "You've got to realize you don't want to overdo it yourself, because once you get overtired, it's tough to recover. This system has been really good for us."

On Saturday, Johnson's first save was the biggest of the game.

The game was scoreless when the Oilers created their first quality scoring chance at 5:12 of the first period. Ales Hemsky had a breakaway, but Johnson stoned the attempt to secure the stalemate. It was Edmonton's first shot of the game, and the Oilers ended the period with only two total on Johnson.

The stop on Hemsky gave Johnson the confidence he needed for the rest of the afternoon.

"Yeah, definitely, especially because it's the first shot, too," he said. "You always want to make the first save of the game and sort of get comfortable, so to be able to make that save and be on a breakaway is sort of just something you can build off of for the rest of the game, but it was sort of a weird period because I only had one more shot the whole time. So, again, it was just nice to make that save early."

The shutout was Johnson's first as a Bruin and only the second of his career.

"It means a lot. For me, it's always just about the wins, but I think when you can add a shutout there, it's just kind of like a bonus point for myself," he said. "To get it at home, too, it's just, it's nice. It's always nice to get a shutout."

Julien's goaltending plan is working, but it's going to be interesting to see where the team is at the end of March. Boston has 17 games next month, including six sets of back-to-backs.

Julien said, "It will be a heavy month, and we'll have Tuukka coming back from the Olympics. It will be important to feel good about having Chad in net and knowing he can do the job."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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