August 11th, 2020.
Game 1 of the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Columbus Blue Jackets and their budding rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
A game that ended more than six and a half hours after it started, and one that became the talk of the sports world as the overtimes went by.
And even though the Lightning would win the game, the star of the night - both figuratively and literally, as he earned the first star of the night - was Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo. Korpisalo saved 85 of the first 87 Tampa Bay shots, before Brayden Point found the back of the net on the Lightning's 88th shot of the night to give the eventual Stanley Cup winners a 3-2 victory.
Saving 85 shots was not only a playoff record, but it was also an all-time record in any game - regular season or playoffs - since the league began keeping track in 1955. Not only did Korpisalo set the record, but he set it by a lot: the previous record was a "mere" 73 saves by Kelly Hrudey in a 1987 game that is older than Korpisalo himself.
Less than a calendar year later, Korpisalo may have made his final save in a Columbus sweater.
The Finnish netminder, who turns 27 on April 28th, left Sunday's game against Tampa Bay (because of course) in the third period with a lower-body injury. Television cameras caught him limping through the tunnel and on the way to the back after Alex Barre-Boulet's first career goal tied the game at 3-3, a goal that likely was scored as a result of Korpisalo's injury.
With just six games remaining, the reality is that it does not make sense for Korpisalo to return to the ice this season regardless of what the Blue Jackets offseason plans are. If they are to trade him, and we know they listened to offers for him as recently as six months ago, then risking further injury by playing him in meaningless games would be an egregiously bad move. On the flip side, if management feels he's their top guy moving forward, then risking further injury by playing him in meaningless games would be an egregiously worse move.
Whatever the decision is, it's likely going to come this summer. Both Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins have the talent, and have proven, their ability to be a No. 1 goalie, and of course, both want to be the guy for their team.
That can't happen in Columbus.
The contract situations are nearly identical, too. Merzlikins is set to make $4.0 million in the 2021-22 season before becoming an unrestricted free agent, and Korpisalo is due $2.8 million before also hitting unrestricted free agency.
Starting goalies are rarely traded for during the season. Any team in contention who will be buyers at the deadline likely have a top guy between the pipes, any team out of contention won't be in the market to spend in a lost season. All of this to say, that unless the Jackets are okay with letting a starting goalie walk after next season for absolutely nothing in return, the prime time to trade one will be this offseason.
Korpisalo, despite a career-worst .894 save percentage this season, could be the more attractive option for teams in the market for a number one goalie. He's had a below-average defense in front of him for nearly the entire season, and his 3.30 goals against average is nearly a half goal higher than his 2.90 career average.
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets brass have a decision to make in the coming weeks and months, but that decision may be made for them by what the market looks like, and what offers come in. He's over a million dollars cheaper next season than Merzlikins, an especially important factor with teams up against a budget in a (hopefully) post-pandemic league.
For now, though, it seems that the 5th Line may never see Korpisalo take the home ice at Nationwide Arena again.