John Tortorella made the switch mid-game on Thursday night, and he's sticking with it.
Elvis Merzlikins entered Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Qualifying series, subbing in for Joonas Korpisalo as the goaltender at the midpoint of the second period with the Columbus Blue Jackets suddenly trailing, 3-0. He proceeded to hold the Toronto Maple Leafs scores the remainder of the game, allowing his team to pull off a remarkable 4-3 overtime win that necessitated a three-goal comeback in the latter half of regulation.
Just before noon on Thursday, Tortorella announced he plans for Merzlikins to remain Columbus' goaltender on Friday with the Blue Jackets looking to close out the five-game series. The puck will drop at 8 p.m. at Scotiabank Arena.
"We feel confident that we have two great goalies," Nick Foligno said on Friday afternoon. "It was unfortunate to have to have Korpi pulled because of the way we were kind of playing in front of him, but knowing that (Merzlikins) was going to step in and shut the door, we just feel so good when either of those guys are in the net. I think Elvis is learning how to be a pro every day and obviously thrives in situations where maybe others don't where he loves the spotlight and loves the opportunity he's getting. We're really really confident in both of our guys, and I think Elvis as he's gone along here has learned a lot about himself and will continue to do so."
Before the series began, Tortorella predicted the Blue Jackets would need both Merzlikins and Korpisalo to get past the Maple Leafs, and he proved himself correct on Thursday by pulling his starter. The move gave Columbus the spark it needed, which Pierre-Luc Dubois referenced afterward, aiding the comeback. Merzlikins stopped all 21 shots that came his way in Game 3 while spending 49:35 minutes on the ice.
The 26-year-old rookie had a 13-9-8 record with a 2.35 goals-against average and 0.923 save percentage in the regular season.
"You know Elvis. He's sure of himself," Tortorella said on Friday. "He has that personality of that he's not afraid. He has grown. Let's face it, when he first started in the National Hockey League he was awful, and then he grew pretty quickly. Started understanding the league. I think, started respecting the league, which is very important. That was a very important bridge for him to cross – respect the league. I think (he) has worked on his game with (goaltending coach) Manny (Legace), the mental part of the game, and has turned into a terrific player."