DENVER — There’s pressure, and then there’s withstanding a furious attack from one of the NHL’s most offensively-skilled teams when it decides to go with an empty net for the final five minutes of regulation.
Goaltender Chad Johnson held strong for the Bruins in a 2-0 win over the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Friday night, becoming the first goaltender this season to shut out Colorado and helping the Bruins become the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth.
Johnson stopped 31 shots and has now allowed just six goals in his last five starts.
“To be in front of these guys with such good systems, and a good D corps, and offensive players that want to play defense, too, you know, it helps me out a lot,” Johnson said after the game. “It helps the goalies out, and our whole team, so it's fun to play in front of our team when we're so committed defensively and we're out there to win and we expect to win.”
The Bruins have now won 11 straight and have taken points from their last 13 road games, and they haven’t trailed at all in their last six games.
Boston expected the first period of Friday’s game to be a challenge, not only because of Colorado’s speed and skill but also because of the altitude change and a bit of a layoff. They knew that in the first period, it would take some time to get their legs under them.
“I think it was a normal situation, considering we've been off for a couple of days, and again, there's thin air here, and that first period's always a bit of a challenge,” Julien said. “So all of those things together, we knew we had to grind it out through the first.”
“Second period, we kind of had to start getting pucks behind their Ds and playing more in their end, and the further the game went, the better we got. I thought we played a smart third, just putting pucks in deep and making them go back for every puck they wanted to bring up the ice. So that was kind of what we looked for and as the game wore on, I thought we got better all the time.”
Defenseman Zdeno Chara said that the Bruins knew that their biggest challenge on Friday would be withstanding the Avs’ pressure.
“They do a really good job forechecking and try to not give you much time to make plays, but I thought for the most part, we moved the puck well,” he said. “We obviously could be better, but like I said, once we started moving our feet and the puck at the same time, we had some cleaner breakouts and better transitions through the neutral zone and obviously defensive zone.”
Colorado came out hard, outshooting Boston 14-6 in the first period, but they couldn’t capitalize on any of their chances while the B’s made the most of what they got. Patrice Bergeron put Boston on the board about five minutes in, taking a slick pass from Dougie Hamilton in the slot, putting it on net and then putting his own rebound past Semyon Varlamov.
“He made a good play to go to the net, and I just put it into him,” Hamilton said. “I think I hit him right in the chest at the start, and it was a good finish after that, so I was pretty happy to have that.”
Boston entered Friday’s matchup with the fewest power plays in the NHL, but they got an opportunity about 13 minutes into the second frame, when Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog was whistled for interference.
Forty-six seconds into the man advantage, Carl Soderberg wristed one from the left face-off circle into the net to make it 2-0 B’s. Soderberg now has 10 points in his last 11 games, and Hamilton assisted again, earning his second assist of the night.
After the Avs failed to get a shot off until late in the third period, they opted for the extra attacker for nearly five minutes to end the game. That is when Johnson came up the biggest.
“I don't know, I was kind of sucking wind there,” Johnson said with a smile. “It was so — I don't know. I wasn't really thinking about anything. Obviously I saw that their goalie was pulled and there was surprise, but they were really coming down really quick so there wasn't much time to think about anything, just try and keep it a 2-0 game.”
It may have taken the B’s some time to get going on Friday, but in the end, they did exactly what they’ve done for the 10 games prior: They found a way to win.
“You want some smart decisions on the road,” Julien said. “And you know, we're not the ones that have to put on the show, but we're the ones that want to come out of here with the win.”