Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins entered the qualifying round of the 2020 postseason as relative unknowns and leave it as stars.
To say that the Columbus Blue Jackets received excellent goaltending in their five-game series victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs would be a massive understatement.
Both goalies had shaky moments, sure. Korpisalo was pulled midway through the second period of Game 3 and didn't see the ice again until Game 5. That was largely because Merzlikins, who was fantastic in relief in Game 3, gave up three goals in the final five minutes of regulation in Game 4. But by and large, one of the storylines coming out of this series will be the Blue Jackets' ability to stymie the Maple Leafs. And that's due, in large part, to the two goaltenders.
Korpisalo waited for this opportunity. And waited. And waited. Then last summer, Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers, opening the door for the Finnish netminder to finally take over the starting role in Columbus ... But Merzlikins had other plans. The two, who have been friends since their days at development camp in 2014, were now competitors looking to fill the void that Bobrovsky left behind.
Suffice it to say, that void looks filled.
Both had fantastic regular seasons, with Korpisalo being named to the All-Star Game before injury precluded that. Merzlikins saw more regular playing time after Korpisalo's late December injury and was among the best goalies in the NHL, finishing second in the league in shutouts despite playing far fewer games than his competitors. Questions remained about how either would fare in the postseason, but after a week, both seem more than comfortable between the pipes.
Massively impressed with the Columbus goaltending duo/tandem/starter/backup/1a/1b/— Mike McKenna *LIVE* (@McKennaInGame) August 10, 2020
Korpisalo recorded the first (and second) shutout in Blue Jackets postseason franchise history, with masterpiece performances in Games 1 and 5. Merzlikins was never credited with a shutout, but his streak of 107:51 without allowing a goal won't soon be forgotten as the Blue Jackets turn the page on this series.
Joonas Korpisalo started the series stopping the first 55 shots he faced.— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) August 8, 2020
Elvis Merzlikins has now stopped the first 56 shots he's faced.#CBJ
Tortorella had plenty of praise for both of his goaltenders after Game 5:
"We were nervous about what our goaltending was going to be. We don't even have a sniff being here if it's not for those two guys (Korpisalo and Merzlikins)."— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) August 10, 2020
With his stellar Games 1 and 5 performances, Korpisalo shares some heady company, becoming just the eighth goaltender in NHL history to record multiple shutouts in a best-of-five series and first since 1983. He's also the first goaltender to record a shutout in a series opener and clincher since Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury in 2018.
Tortorella will likely go with Korpisalo to start against Tampa Bay, and honestly, who can blame him? He gave up one bad goal in the series against Toronto, a one-timer from Nick Robertson that squeezed through the five-hole. The Lightning, like the Maple Leafs, are a highly-skilled offensive team that can put up goals in a hurry.
Not to say that the Lightning can't or won't do that against this Blue Jackets club, but I like to think that Korpisalo and Merzlikins have convinced this organization that either will more than suffice.