The career of netminder Eddie Johnston straddled the NHL's Original Six and Expansion eras. He also witnessed first hand the transformation of the Boston Bruins from league doormats to Stanley Cup champions. Overall, he played in nearly 600 regular season games and was considered a steady if unspectacular player.
The Montreal native worked his way through the Quebec junior ranks with the Junior Royals, Trois Rivieres Flambeaux and Junior Canadiens. He also suited up briefly for two senior outfits, the Chatham Maroons and the Amherst Ramblers. Johnston signed on with the Boston Bruins organization and began his pro career with the WHL's Winnipeg Warriors in 1956-57. The next season he played for the Shawinigan Cataracts and led the Quebec Hockey League in wins, shutouts and minutes played.
After leading the EPHL in wins and shutouts in 1960-61 and topping the WHL in victories the next year, the Bruins gave him a shot at the big leagues. Johnston received plenty of work in the early stages of his NHL career since Boston continually battled the New York Rangers to stay out of the league's basement. Still, in the days when there were only six full time NHL goalkeepers, it was a major accomplishment for Johnston to suit up for the Bruins regardless of how bad they were. In only his second season, the young backstopper played in all 70 of the Bruins' games, one of the last players of his time to do so. Johnston was also one of the last goalies to adopt a face mask after he was hit by a Bobby Orr shot in pre-game warm up in 1965.
Johnston was on hand as the Bruins built around the likes of Orr, Phil Esposito and Johnny Bucyk to become a league power in the late 1960s. By this time he was playing nearly 40 games a season but was definitely the "number 2" goalie behind Gerry Cheevers. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970 with Johnson as the second stringer. Two years later he led all post-season netminders with six wins and a 1.86 goals against average as the Bruins won their second title in three seasons. A few months later, Johnston was honoured by being named the spare goaltender for Team Canada in the Summit Series versus the Soviet Union.
Johnston played the 1972-73 season with Boston but the club faltered in the Stanley Cup quarter-finals with Jacques Plante in net. It turned out that he was the "player-to-be-named-later" in the late-season trade that brought Plante from Toronto to Beantown. Johnston split the Toronto goaltending chores with Doug Favell and Dunc Wilson in 1973-74 then was traded to St. Louis for Gary Sabourin. He played over three years for a Blues team that was fairly weak in their own zone. He was sold to Chicago in January 1978 and played four regular season games before retiring at the age of 42.
After retiring as a player, Johnston became interested in coaching. Since he often contributed to instruction at practice in his latter years on the ice, this was a natural transition for him. In 1979-80, he guided the Chicago Black Hawks to a 14-point improvement but the club was swept easily by the Buffalo Sabres in the quarter-finals. When Chicago opted to go with ex-Hawk Keith Magnuson, as bench boss, Johnston surfaced in Pittsburgh as the Penguins' head coach. He spent three years behind the Pittsburgh bench before moving up to the general manager's position. In June 1984 Johnston's announced a change in the Penguins' fortunes when he called out Mario Lemieux's name as the top pick at the NHL Entry Draft. Johnston remained with the Pens' until 1987-88.
Johnston served as the general manager of the Hartford Whalers from 1989 to 1992 but was released after he couldn't get the team past the first round of the playoffs. Between 1993 and 1997 he returned to the Pittsburgh bench and guided the team to a 153-98-25 record and a berth in the semi-finals in 1996.