UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- One could make a strong case that last season's version of the New York Islanders would have lost to the Boston Bruins on Thursday. After all, the Islanders lost 13 games in 2013-14 in which they led by two goals.
But Islanders general manager Garth Snow shored up the goaltending during the offseason and added defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk a week before the start of the season with hopes of getting his team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Chad Johnson was one of Snow's signings when the free agent market opened July 1. The former Bruins goalie stopped 14 of 15 shots in the third period to help the Islanders hang on for a 3-2 win at TD Garden.
"It might, yeah. It might," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said when asked if it was a game the Islanders would have let slip away in years past. "But I think our guys know systematically and the framework of how we need to play, but at the same time you gotta defend hard. As I tell them, you don't want easy. Nothing easy is worth having. You just go out, you battle every day for each other and I think the hard work pays off. The one that hits the post maybe a year ago, it goes in. But the guys are working extremely hard, they're paying attention to detail and we need some puck luck along the way."
The Islanders took a 3-1 lead into the third period against the Bruins, but it was cut in half when Chris Kelly scored at 9:49. Boston continued to push and had several chances to tie the game, including a backhand shot from point-blank range by Carl Soderberg than Johnson managed to stop with his left pad.
With the win, Johnson improved to 9-0-0 lifetime at TD Garden.
"I certainly knew what to expect being on that side of things last year," Johnson said. "I knew their third periods are usually their best. For me, I was just trying to stay focused and make the saves that I could. After they scored that one goal, I knew it was going to get even tougher there in the third. But I thought we did a good job sort of holding them off, and then obviously getting the two points and finishing it was big for us."
New York (5-2-0) returns home to face the Dallas Stars at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday. Jaroslav Halak, who signed a four-year, $18 million contract in May to be the Islanders No. 1 goaltender, will likely get the start despite Johnson's solid performance Thursday. Johnson, who backed up Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask in Boston last season, understands the situation.
"Last year was tough early on to try and get in a rhythm," said Johnson, who is 2-0-0 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .918 save percentage for New York. "But I think once I kind of got in the routine, you don't really think about it too much or how long it's been since you played. You just find a way to be ready. If you can't do it, somebody else will. That's kind of the way I've always looked at it. There's stretches where I've gone like a month without playing before. You've just got to find a way to just be sharp.
"I always like playing a lot more. Everyone who plays the game wants to play, but I know the situation and for me it's just when I do play -- 10 games, 20, 50, 60 -- you just try and win every night."
That's certainly the approach Johnson took Thursday, when he helped the Islanders survive a manic third period to earn a win in Boston that helped them avoid what would have been a three-game skid. It's the quality of goaltending the Islanders are going to need throughout the season if they want to be a playoff team.
They're also going to have to protect leads when they get them. Thursday, Johnson was the reason why they did.
"They had like seven or eight Grade-A chances in the third period," Capuano said. "But Chad was composed, he was under control and made himself big and just made some big saves when we needed him to.
"It's a different team than years past. I think that we're more composed on the bench. We knew they were gonna make a push. I liked the composure that we had and we stayed with it."