HARTFORD, Conn. — Portland goaltender Chad Johnson was in the Twilight Zone on Friday night. He was also just in The Zone, stopping 29 of 30 shots to lift the Pirates to a 2-1 win over the Connecticut Whale at the XL Center.
Johnson played with the Whale for three seasons. On Friday, fans for the first time in Johnson’s career derided him with chants and hoots. Johnson had to dress in the visiting locker room for the first time.
No problem — Johnson and the Pirates improved to 6-5-1-1 with relative ease.
“It was very weird coming out onto the ice over here,” Johnson said. “The first period was tough. It felt like my own team was shooting on me. It was pretty emotional.”
It was also pretty impressive. The Pirates weathered a slew of penalties, allowing zero goals in nine penalty kills. Portland seemingly did everything possible to open the door for the Whale (5-7-1-0) as they twice took double-minor penalties. One double-minor led two minutes of 5-on-3 skating, the other was just four minutes of 5-on-4.
“Our penalty kill was phenomenal,” Johnson said. “For the guys to get in front of the shots like that, for them to give themselves up, that’s huge. Obviously, they knew the situation with me coming back here, so I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. They’re not as protected as I am. So for them to give themselves up like that is huge.”
Still, Portland Coach Ray Edwards wasn’t pleased with the volume of penalties.
Connecticut was penalized 10 times for 42 minutes, but most of that was for fighting, so the Whale only allowed three power plays. Portland had 14 penalties for 34 minutes.
“That is not a recipe for success, I’ll tell you that,” Edwards said. “For one team to have eight or nine minors and the other to have two or three, that’s tough. …
“(Johnson) bailed us out a few times, he took care of a few issues for us. But everybody as a group has been getting better.”
Johnson’s former teammate, Connecticut goalie Cameron Talbot, did his best to keep pace. Talbot held the Pirates scoreless for two periods.
It took a fluke goal from Alexandre Bolduc to finally beat Talbot.
Bolduc was standing next to the boards behind the Whale net when he flipped the puck toward Talbot, who was guarding the corner.
The puck bounced off Talbot’s leg pad and backward, across the line for Portland’s first goal 2:01 into the third period.
“In a game, you don’t have any friends out there,” Johnson said.
“You don’t want to have a bad goal like that, but it’s good if it gives you an advantage.”
Chris Brown padded the lead with 10:21 remaining when he found a loose puck off a faceoff from the circle to Talbot’s right. Brown slotted the shot just under Talbot’s glove for the 2-0 lead.
That was all the help Johnson would need. Connecticut applied pressure down the stretch.
With 4:50 to go, a turnover in Portland’s zone gave Kelsey Tessier a point-blank look at Johnson. He ripped a shot but Johnson cooly caught it, flipping the puck in the air after the stop and into his glove.
Finally, with 36.0 seconds to go and Talbot off the ice for a man advantage, the Whale’s Brandon Segal scored to make it 2-1. Too little, too late to spoil the homecoming.