After missing the 2018 playoffs due to a knee injury, defenseman Erik Johnson came back to the ice for the 2018-19 season and tied his career high with 80 games played through the regular season while recording multiple milestones along the way.
On Oct. 6 versus Philadelphia, Johnson tied his career high with three assists and the blueliner registered his 200th NHL assist against Dallas on Dec. 15. Further, he tied his career high with a plus-4 rating on Nov. 28 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Feb. 14 at the Winnipeg Jets.
Johnson appeared in his 700th NHL contest at San Jose on Mar. 1, becoming the first defenseman from his draft class to hit the 700-game mark--the 47th U.S.-born defenseman in NHL history to do so. Less than a week later on Mar. 7, he skated in his 500th game as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. He joined Adam Foote (760) and John-Michael Liles (523) as the only defensemen to play 500 regular-season contests for the Avalanche.
Video: Johnson on playing in his 700th NHL game
"Obviously, 700 seems like a lot when you first break into the league when you're 19 (years old)," Johnson said prior to his 700th game on Mar. 1. "Every 100 games you play is a good milestone. It goes by fast, you have to enjoy it and appreciate it. You never know how many you're going to be able to play, you just have to treat every day like a gift and a blessing. It's a lot of fun in the NHL, so it's a fun accomplishment."
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound veteran finished second on the team in average ice time (21:48), while leading the club in even-strength ice time (18:22) and shifts-per-game (27.0).
When Tyson Barrie was out with an injury for a four-game stretch in late November and early December, Johnson recorded some of his best play of the regular season. He scored a goal against the Penguins on Nov. 28 and then recorded a season-high 29:22 of ice time on Dec. 2 at the Detroit Red Wings.
Video: PIT@COL: Johnson blasts one-timer from the point
The Bloomington, Minnesota, native tallied a goal on his 31st birthday, when one-timed a perfectly placed pass from Samuel Girard to lead the Avalanche to a 3-1 victory at the Dallas Stars on Mar. 21.
"I just had the easy part shooting the puck," Johnson said on the goal against the Central Division-rival Stars. "[Samuel Girard] does what he does and makes awesome plays, and I was the beneficiary."
Video: COL@DAL: Johnson pots Girard's feed for opening goal
The goal was one of seven scored this season by Johnson, who also tallied 18 assists--25 points in all. He finished second among Avalanche defenseman in goals while finishing third in both assists and points. His plus-8 rating tied for sixth on the team.
Johnson was also clutch in overtime for the Avalanche, scoring his sixth career overtime goal--his third with the Avs--in the home finale on Apr. 4th against Winnipeg, shortly after Colorado punched its ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His three career overtime winners with the Avs ranks second among defenseman in franchise history, one behind Barrie (four).
The Avalanche entered the contest at the Pepsi Center against the Jets needing one point to clinch its postseason berth. The game was tied 2-2 late and Colorado was penalized for too many men on the ice with just 1:26 left. After killing the penalty, the Avs earned the victory when Johnson scored 1:49 into overtime to seal the 3-2 win.
Video: WPG@COL: Johnson wins it in OT after Avalanche clinch
"I have a ton of pride in the organization, so to do this means a lot to me" Johnson said after scoring the game-winner in the playoff-clinching contest. "It means a lot to the fans, staff and all the people that believe in us. It's a great feeling, but there is a lot of work left to be done for sure.
"Man, we made it so tough on ourselves--too many men with [1:26] left. You should have heard the groans on the bench. We were like, 'You have got to be kidding me.' We killed it off, they hit a pipe. I did a freaking backflip trying to block a [Patrik] Laine shot. It was loud in there, it sure was fun. I can't wait to play in front of those fans in the playoffs."
Johnson played some of his best hockey of the year in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After missing the postseason the previous year with injury, he earned three points (two goals, one assist) and averaged 19:14 of ice time while being trusted in key defensive situations.
In Game 3 of Colorado's first-round series against the Calgary Flames on Apr. 15, the rear guard scored on a deflection early in the third period to put the Avalanche up 6-1 and helped the Avs earn the 2-1 series lead at the time and eventually win the round 4-1.
Video: SJS@COL, Gm4: Johnson scores empty-net goal
Johnson was also reliable for the Avalanche through all seven games of the second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks. He scored his second goal of the playoffs in Colorado's Game 4 victory on May 2nd. Johnson picked up the puck below the Avs' goal line and sent it all the way down the ice into an empty net, to seal the 3-0 victory and even the series at two wins apiece.
Despite eventually losing the series in seven games, Johnson and the Avalanche are motivated to build on the successes of last season. Once again, the blueliner will be looked to in the 2019-20 season to provide stability and veteran leadership as the team works toward the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup championship.