Elvis Merzlikins Should Take the Reins Between the Pipes in Game 4

By Chris Pennington on August 7, 2020 at 7:00 am
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (70) heads for the bench as he is replaced by goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) during the second period against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference qualifications at Scotiabank Arena.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets had one of the most dramatic wins in franchise history last night in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. They now hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series with a chance to win the series tonight.

All happy thoughts, right? No need for any drama now. Well, not quite.

First off, I'll say it again. It's a problem, but it's a good problem. A. Good. Problem.

(I have to keep reminding myself that it's good)

Who do you start in net?

Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins have gone back and forth since training camp last year on who should be the starting goaltender. Today, we still don't have an answer.

Which at the end of the day, is fine. Most teams would kill for just one of these guys, who both rank in the top of the league in several categories. Their combined play helped lift a Blue Jackets club with a horrendously terrible offense to a postseason berth, and potentially some more, partially depending on how tonight goes.

Blue Jackets' Goaltenders Regular Season League Rankings
  Wins SV% GAA SO Quality Start %
Joonas Korpisalo 19 (T-21st) .911 (31st) 2.60 (17th) 2 (T-17th) .600 (15th)
Elvis Merzlikins 13 (43rd) .923 (T-8th) 2.35 (6th) 5 (T-2nd) .548 (28th)

So, I guess it's a temporary question. We're not looking for a permanent answer. We're looking for a Game 4 answer: Who should start in net in Game 4? My answer: Elvis Merzlikins.

"I mean, that's my job. It's hard. You have to be ready every day, even if you're not playing."– Elvis Merzlikins following Game 3

I'll be clear that my opinion has little-to-nothing to do with Korpisalo's play in the Qualifying Round series so far against the Maple Leafs. In his two playoff games before last night, Korpisalo had allowed just two goals on 66 shots for a .970 SV%. He was rock solid, and there was no reason to relieve him of his duties.

But, three (relatively quick) goals in Game 3 had the whole team shook, even if the first two weren't even Korpisalo's fault (an own-goal deflection off Seth Jones, and a defensive collapse on the penalty kill).

Then came the third goal less than a minute later, and it was clear the team was rattled.

The boys in blue needed some kind of change or spark, and that third tally by Toronto being a bit softer of a goal gave John Tortorella enough excuse to make the swap (in my opinion). Three goals allowed on 12 shots is a justified reason to get yanked.

"Korpi played well enough to keep us in it. We just changed him to give us a little boost. Elvis made saves to give us a chance to come back," said Pierre-Luc Dubois after the Game 3 win. "From there, it’s like our team, we gained confidence. And then the rest is history, I guess."

Tortorella also made it clear it was more of a momentum change...

"It certainly wasn't due to (Korpisalo's) play. But you go down 3-0 and you're playing back-to-back, I have to start thinking sometimes what I need to get ready for the next game also, especially in these back-to-back situations," said Tortorella. "We have tremendous faith in Elvis. He's a really good goalie. It gave us a chance to catch our breath. I think that's one of the biggest things we needed to do is just stop and slow it down a little bit because it was getting away from us."

Merzlikins proceeded to stop the next 21 shots against him in nearly 50 minutes of play to pick up a massive overtime victory (and the first playoff win of his young career!). And as we look onto Game 4, I think the decision, though tough on paper, can be made simple. 

Merzlikins has proven, statistically, that he can be even better than Korpisalo (in the regular season, not thinking of just last night). Also, last night did prove a bit that the playoff nerves don't get to the rookie either, eh?

Also, as partially hinted at by Tortorella, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the club to ride the momentum of the goaltender got them their most recent win. I understand that game-to-game momentum is far different than in-game momentum, but I also believe in riding the hot hand.

"Even if you're not playing, you have to prepare yourself for the games," said Merzlikins. "This is fighting for playoff spot, so I think it's even a little bit maybe harder and you should be a little bit more nervous, especially in our situation that we were 1-1 tied."

In short; Korpisalo has cooled off, and Merzlikins is heating up.

Does the king deserve an encore?

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