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Johnson stands tall in big win over Sharks

Chad Johnson made a number of clutch saves to preserve a 3-2 win over San Jose on Wednesday

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- Watching from the ice, Matthew Tkachuk's heart - which, we're finding out, is as big, as vast, as the southern Alberta horizon - leapt up into his throat.

"Oh, man,'' admitted the junkyard dog rookie. "I was watching, and thinking like 'No. Please.'

"But Johnny came up huge for us. On that and the penalty shot.

"We're glad to have him back there tonight."

Up 3-2, Joe Pavelski in the stir for late desperate hook, and the face-off deep in San Jose territory.

Safe as a baby in its mother's arms in church. Done and dusted. Right?

Uh uh. Not so fast.

 Materializing out of the mists, out of nowhere, Mikkel Boedker crept behind the safety-first defence duo of Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano to accept a breakaway pass and the clock nearly down to 00:00.

"Those last eight seconds,'' sighed Calgary Flames' coach Glen Gulutzan, "we feel asleep at the wheel."

Luckily Chad Johnson, human air bag, deployed in the nick of time to save the day.

Crisis averted. Maximum points stockpiled.

"I think everyone was shocked,'' admitted Johnson, asked about glancing up to see Boedker, pirouetting at the blueline to accept the pass, steaming in unimpeded.

"You're on a power play and with eight seconds left and there's a guy on a breakaway from the blueline. But you just try to stay focused, stay with him.

"Thankfully, nothing came out of it."

Boedker will doubtless be seeing Chad Johnson in his nightmares for awhile.

A penalty shot save with 5:29 left and the game tied.

Then the shorthanded breakaway in the game's final 10 seconds, a golden opportunity to send it into OT.

Video: Johnson comes up big in 3rd as Flames win, 3-2

"Ach,'' sighed Boedeker. "Obviously you would've liked a different outcome.

"The penalty shot is always difficult. You come down and feel you have the right move. He just kind of read it. He's a goalie that stays back and is patient.

"The last one there, with five seconds left, it hit him, went through him and went wide.

"I'd like to change both of them but it's good to get those opportunities. You want those as a player."

The penalty shot was awarded when Flames' defence man T.J. Brodie spun Boedker around as he bore in towards the net.

"On the penalty shot, I just tried to stay with him,'' explained Johnson. "I played with him in Phoenix. I tried to go back in the memory log there and just remember what he did.

"He had two good looks there but I got lucky and made the saves."

A precious win against the Pacific Division leaders was decided by a Dougie Hamilton shot with 2:19 left to play, between Johnson's two pieces of larceny.

The two points lifted Calgary to within four of San Jose and the Anaheim Ducks, joint divisional leaders.

"This means a lot,'' said Johnson. "We said after the Winnipeg game (a 2-0 loss Monday) that we wanted to start playing better against some of the teams around us and above us.

"We've had success against teams below us. Tonight was a good test for us, to see where we are. It was sort of a playoff atmosphere, back and forth. Weird goals, sloppy goals, bad goals.

"It's good for us to know we can beat the best team in our division."

San Jose broke on top at 9:40 of the first period, via the power play, Logan Couture, in his office in the high slot, nicking a Brent Burns point shot en route enough to leave Johnson stranded.

Calgary answered back courtesy Michael Frolik - in stir on the Couture goal for a slash, stick-to-stick on D-man Brenden Dillon. Exacting a bit of revenge, Frolik rubbed out Dillon along the end boards, puck squirting free. Tkachuk slung a pass back to Deryk Engelland in the centre of the ice at the point.

Dell stopped the initial shot but Frolik was there to feast on the leftovers at 11:22.

The euphoria lasted less than five minutes, Burns flinging a rising shot from the right boards that somehow, through a thicket of bodies, tucked itself inches inside the far post.

They battled back-and-forth, change-for-chance, until Tkachuk, deployed on the second power play unit with linemates Frolik and Mikael Backlund, deflected a Backlund pass home at 19:28 of the second period to square proceedings at 2-2.

Video: Matthew talks about the excellent play of his line

The teenaged Tkachuk just continues to impress. A goal and assist Wednesday pulled him to 28 points and to within one of the team lead.

"I have some history with good young players,'' praised Gulutzan. "And he's surprised me with his hockey IQ, his competitiveness, the way he manages the game and the puck.

"For a young guy, I haven't seen that."

Always abrasiive, corrosive, at one point Tkachuk had a hold of Burns' stick on the Calgary bench. Burns, not surprisingly, was not amused.

"Ah, I don't know,'' quipped Gulutzan. "It was in his guts, it was in his pants and then it was in our bench.

"I'm sure he could've handed it back but if you know the kid, he's not gonna hand it back.

"Two competitive guys. It's like stealing a guy's girlfriend, right? Burnsie's having a pretty good game with that stick. I'm sure he wanted it back."

In goal for the Sharks was 27-year-old Airdrie product Aaron Dell, making his sixth start of the season and his National Hockey League career.

"The thrill of a lifetime,'' said Dell of coming home to play at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The Calgary-reared Johnson, hero of the evening, could relate.

"You definitely feel that pressure, knowing you have lot son family, friends, everybody. Ex-coaches, classmates,'' he said. "Especially in the first game.

"I remember my first game (at the Dome). I was jittery, excited, lots of emotions went into it, being from Calgary. He played well. You're excited for him, to be able to come home and play."

The Flames have not lost back-to-back tilts since mid-December and only once since Nov. 5 and 6.

While pleased, Gulutzan wasn't ordering out for party streamers and confetti just yet.

"I coached in Vegas for six years,'' he said. "You need to go on runs. You need to take your money off the table when things are going bad.

"I used to always use those analogies.

"You can't let things snowball. When you lose a game you've got to get right back at it and stop those things and then hopefully get on a run.

"That's when you can up your bets or double-down.

"We've done a good job beating the teams below but not as good a job against the teams above us. It's a building-block thing. I didn't think we were great. San Jose was playing back to-back.

"We've got better.

"We need to get on a run here. We're kind of been going back and forth. We need to keep building.

"I like the fact that we haven't let ourselves slide but we need to keep building."

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