TAMPA, Fla. – With the Tampa Bay power-play unit on the ice, sniper Steven Stamkos lined up for one-timer after one-timer. The sellout crowd was roaring, and Buffalo's penalty-killers were scrambling.
Not Chad Johnson. The goaltender calmly moved from side to side, staying with the action and knocking away pucks.
The Sabres scored twice in the next 10 minutes, including the overtime winner for a 2-1 victory, and Johnson was earning celebratory head taps. It's finally become a regular occurrence.
After opening the season just 1-8-3, Johnson is 5-2 in his last seven starts. He has a .932 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average during the run, improving his confidence and the trust his teammates have in him.
"Like any goalie, the more you play the better you feel, and guys will be more confident," Johnson said. "The team is playing really well in front of me. That's why we're seeing the results.
"We're not giving up two-on-ones, three-on-twos. We're not getting really Grade A's all the time, maybe one per game. That's why you're going to see the results I'm getting."
While the team game has improved in front of him, Johnson is playing better, too. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him in the crease Friday night when the Sabres visit the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.
"Chad was really calm," Sabres coach Phil Housley said after Wednesday's win. "He was just letting the puck hit him. He's just really square to the puck and in position. He's been playing really well for us lately."
He's also playing. He's started five of the last 10 games, splitting the crease with Robin Lehner after being the clear backup for the first four months.
"It is nice to get more," Johnson said. "'That was my goal at the start. It just didn't happen, so just try and take advantage of it."
Though Johnson has insisted all season he's better than his numbers, the stats are beginning to be more palatable. Before the run started in Johnson's hometown of Calgary on Jan. 22, he was 1-8-3 with an .878 save percentage and 3.85 GAA. Now he's 6-10-3 with an .896 and 3.18.
Those aren't sparkling, but they're definitely better.
"It's just that time of the year now where I think everything's coming together," said the 31-year-old, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. "We're finding a little bit of our identity. It's that last little stretch here. A lot of guys have things to prove whether it's contracts, won't be here next year or whatever it is.
"There's a lot to prove, and we're trying to build an identity all the way to the end here. I think you're seeing that now."
Story topics: Chad Johnson