The best news from the Boston Bruins’ shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night was that no one got hurt. After that, however, there were few positives to choose from in a somewhat lethargic showing in the Great White North.
It’s understandable that the Bruins may not be 100 percent emotionally invested in the final week of the season. They have little to play for, and there’s no doubt they’d rather be playing playoff games right about now. One player who did bring his best in Winnipeg, though, was backup goalie Chad Johnson.
Tuukka Rask was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate, but it was Johnson who was between the pipes in game No. 80 for the Black and Gold. With a less-than-impressive team in front of him, Johnson had one of his best games in what’s been a very good season for the netminder. He stopped 36 of the 37 shots he faced in the 2-1 shootout loss to the Jets, the latest in a growing number of shut-down efforts for Johnson.
“Had it not been for Chad tonight, we probably would have come out of here with no points,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told NESN’s Jamie Erdahl shortly after Boston’s second shootout loss in as many games. “To me, he was the best player on the ice for us. They were the better team tonight, and there’s no reason for that again. Our play wasn’t good enough tonight to earn that (first) point, let alone the (second).”
Aside from a couple of sporadically placed shaky performances, Johnson has been quite the find for the Bruins. He’s benefited from a defensive system, no doubt, but Johnson deserves credit for not trying to do too much and taking advantage of his opportunities. His last real stinker came on Feb. 26 in Buffalo where he allowed five goals in an overtime loss to the lowly Sabres, but he’s been terrific since that game.
Since then, Johnson has posted a 6-0-2 record and has allowed just 11 even-strength goals. His save percentage in the same stretch is an incredible .943 as well. Those games haven’t necessarily come against the NHL’s elite — save for a 31-save shutout in Colorado — but he’s performed his backup job admirably.
Because Johnson has been so reliable, it’s allowed the Bruins to give starter Tuukka Rask down the stretch. Rask has “only” made 57 starts this season, which is currently just 10th-most in the NHL. That’s even more important when you factor in that Rask put in some big minutes for Finland during the Winter Olympics back in February.
The Boston goaltending duo has been one of the league’s best and will go into the regular season’s final weekend in contention for the Jennings Trophy given to the goaltenders on the team that’s allowed the fewest goals. The Bruins have allowed two more goals than the Kings with both teams still to play two more games.
Johnson’s immediate future is uncertain — although he’ll probably get one more regular-season start — but after that, it’s even more uncertain. If all goes right for Rask and the Bruins, Johnson won’t see any playoff time. And with the Bruins’ stocked goaltending pipeline, Johnson’s future with the club could be up in the air as he’s on a one-year contract. Regardless, there’s no denying that he’s been a valuable asset to the NHL’s best team, and he proved that again on Thursday in Winnipeg.