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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Rookie goalie Johnson seemed to be the only one who cared

Goalkeeper Chad Johnson #29 of the New York

Goalkeeper Chad Johnson #29 of the New York Rangers waits for play to resume against the Philadelphia Flyers. (December 30, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

This one is not going in Chad Johnson's scrapbook. But maybe it has to, since the 23-year-old rookie played his first minutes in the NHL Wednesday night.

But 23 seconds into the second period, 23 seconds into Johnson's NHL career, Simon Gagne walked in alone and whipped a shot past the stunned kid. It was a brutal, brutal night for the Rangers, a 6-0 beat-down by the Flyers in which it didn't seem as if any Ranger wanted to play.

"No," was all John Tortorella could say when asked if it seemed like his team even cared, much less tried, last night. "And why, I don't know."

Johnson cared, and what he did in relief of a very so-so Henrik Lundqvist may matter somewhere in this next month. After Gagne's goal, Johnson made 16 saves, a few really sharp ones in a barrage of a second period in which Gagne got the second goal of his hat trick.

"I don't think anybody played the way they wanted to," said Johnson, who has sat quietly and patiently for just about all of December while Lundqvist started 13 straight. He'll get a 14th straight start Thursday night in Raleigh and he has to be fresher and better than he was in 20 minutes Wednesday night, when he allowed Ian Laperriere's slapper from the boards to carom off his glove, up in the air and down into the crease, where former Ranger Blair Betts swatted it home while four Rangers stood and stared just 54 seconds in.

So Tortorella, who did far less screaming and cursing at his team and after the game than he did when the Rangers dropped a 2-1 game to the Islanders two weeks ago, turned to Johnson. The coach has been saying for a couple weeks now that he needed to see what he had in this prospective backup goaltender.

"I thought he settled in and made some good saves," Tortorella said. "I think the kid hung in there. I was hoping the team would play for him a little bit."

Instead, Johnson's teammates did more standing around. Brandon Dubinsky pronounced the game his worst as a Ranger; others in the locker room were stumped as to how, just two weeks after their coach lost his mind when the Rangers failed to compete hard against the rival Islanders, the team did exactly the same thing, only with far uglier results.

"If it's going to take a coach acting like an idiot every five games . . . It can't be that way," Tortorella said.

Back to the kid for now. Gagne whipped that shot by him 23 seconds into the second to make it 4-0 - Dubinsky gave the puck to Gagne for the solo break-in - and then the Flyers had another glorious chance barely 20 seconds later that Johnson got a piece of.

Gagne scored on him twice more, once on a 5-on-3 when the Flyers peppered Johnson with half a dozen shots, and once in the third on the last of perhaps eight odd-man rushes. But Johnson may have stuck in Gagne's mind more for the glove save against the Flyers' All-Star, a doorstep shot that had Gagne talking to himself at the side of the net.

"You just take as much as you can from it. I haven't been in a game in a while," Johnson said. "It's tough to get thrown in there, but that's my job. I have to make those saves."

There may have been 19 other Rangers who played as if they didn't care, but one did. There will not be any commemorative pucks from this debut, but Chad Johnson showed the Rangers he can play. That's something to take from a night to forget.


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