Johnson Remains Locked in as Caps Beat Bruins

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Brent Johnson crumpled to the ice after making an acrobatic save midway through the first period, Coach Bruce Boudreau cringed. The Washington Capitals couldn't afford to lose another player, let alone their most consistent goaltender.

Johnson, though, shook off the nagging pain in his hip and completed one of his best performances of the season, stopping 33 shots -- including a number of scintillating saves -- to clinch a 3-1 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins.

"He was outstanding," Boudreau said. "You need that kind of goaltending to win. This league is too good. When we needed him, he was there."

Nicklas Backstrom, minor league call-up Alexandre Giroux and Alex Ovechkin supplied the offense, and Johnson did the rest, holding the East's most prolific offense to one goal for the first time since Oct. 28. Johnson won his third consecutive start, and with another solid performance, appears to have seized the starting role from José Theodore.

For now, at least.

"Theo will get his chance to get in again [so] I don't have a controversy by any stretch," Boudreau said. "You want to ride the hot hand, and Johnny's hot right now."

Johnson, who has stopped 79 of 83 shots for a .952 save percentage during the streak, added, "I feel that I'm going to play whenever coach says I'm playing."

Smart answer by a savvy veteran. But if Johnson (8-4-2 with a 2.47 goals against average and a .918 save percentage) continues to play the way he has, Boudreau will have little choice but to continue turning to him. Meanwhile, Theodore (8-6-1, 3.08, .888) has dropped his past two starts.

What made Johnson's performance all the more special was that it didn't come against any old team. All-star defenseman Zdeno Chara (game-high 26 minutes 50 seconds of ice time) and the Bruins had won five in a row and 17 of their previous 20.

"This is Johnny's first chance maybe since the St. Louis days to really push himself to see if he can't play equal games as the other guy and he's doing his darnedest to stay in between the nets," Boudreau said.

The Capitals also received a lift from the return of winger Alexander Semin and top-pairing defenseman Tom Poti. Semin, who missed 12 games with a muscle strain in his side, skated with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the first line, which terrorized Boston goaltender Manny Fernandez all night. The trio finished with eight shots on goal, five of them coming off the stick of Ovechkin.

Poti, meantime, led all Capitals defensemen with 22:01 of ice time. He had missed six games with a groin muscle pull.

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