Cam Atkinson backward hot, the Blue Jackets denticulate four second-period goals and Elvis was everywhere for his third annihilation in four games.
It could’ve been ugly.
In fact, it could’ve been a daydream for the Blue Jackets on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena – area the New Jersey Devils, actually at times, skated circles about them.
Instead, as has been the case with this aggregation the accomplished week, the Jackets begin a way to accomplish it admirable in a 5-0 achievement that was their fourth beeline win and 14th celebration in the accomplished 20 amateur (14-2-4).
They took over the aboriginal wildcard atom in the Eastern Conference, pulled aural two credibility of the New York Islanders for third abode in the Metropolitan Division and bare all 41 of Elvis Merzlikins’ saves in his third NHL annihilation to cull it off.
“That was some actual acceptable goaltending tonight,” said drillmaster John Tortorella, who beneath than captivated with the draft of the team’s comedy in advanced of the 25-year old amateur netminder. “That account at the end of the additional aeon (5-0), could accept been askew the added way. We had one guy playing. As a team, we played the aboriginal six account and afresh we watched Elvis comedy for the draft of the aboriginal aeon and the draft of the additional period.”
Good affair they had Merzlikins, whose aboriginal name and acquiescent personality are bound acceptable over the Jackets’ fanbase. This was his third annihilation in the accomplished four amateur and clashing the antecedent two, he was best amenable for it.
How bad were the Jackets outplayed in the aboriginal 40 minutes?
Put it this way: alike afterwards outshooting the Devils 10-5 in the third, Columbus accomplished with 10 beneath shots (41-31) and had 21 beneath attempted shots (69-48). And still the Jackets won, again, apery their 3-2 achievement Thursday adjoin the Carolina Hurricanes in abounding ways.
They leaned on Merzlikins, who fabricated 36 of his saves in the aboriginal two periods, they blocked 17 shots and they denticulate some big goals at key times – including four goals in the additional aeon to draft it open.
Cam Atkinson accomplished with three credibility on two goals and an abetment for his additional beeline multi-point game. Alexander Wennberg pushed his season-high point band to four amateur with a ambition and abetment – scoring his third ambition in the streak.
Jakob Lilja additionally added a ambition in the second, forth with captain Nick Foligno, whose ambition backward in the third adored the day adjoin the Hurricanes Hurricanes.
“I don’t appetite to booty abroad annihilation from a win, because it’s a after-effects alliance and it’s nice to get that win,” Foligno said. “We did some nice things in adjustment to do that, but I anticipate we apperceive our bold has to get a little bit bigger to consistently do it.”
Maybe a lot better.
This wasn’t a bold that makes you appetite to administer some brightness to it and affectation it aloft the broiler – unless you acknowledgment to the name “Elvis Merzlikins.”
In fact, abundant of it was added fit to bandy into the fireplace. But it was still addition win, two added credibility and confused the Jackets accomplished the Hurricanes for the aboriginal wildcard in the Eastern Conference.
Reminder: this is a aggregation that was 11 credibility out of the additional agrarian agenda amid through December.
The Jackets accept affluence to actual – and can assignment on it Sunday adjoin the New York Rangers – but they shouldn’t balloon to bacchanal a bit in these abracadabra tricks they’re affairs off.
Suspicious minds ability accept some doubts about how connected they can accumulate it up, but that T-R-O-U-B-L-E can be dealt with later.
Here is the 3-2-1 … three takeaways, two questions and one added thing:
1) Elvis was everywhere
It’s been a little added than three months aback Merzlikins stood in advanced of a media acquisition with black eyes at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Afterwards acceptance seven goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in his NHL debut, it was all he could do to asphyxiate out his words –knowing his mother and abounding others in Latvia and Switzerland had backward alive to watch.
That night now seems like eons ago.
Merzlikins has gone through so abundant since, including a few added boxy nights afore awkward off the run he’s now on while replacing the afflicted Joonas Korpisalo (meniscus tear).
Merzlikins was amazing adjoin the Devils, including 21 saves in the aboriginal aeon and 15 added in the second. He fabricated boxy saves attending easy, accessible saves attending simplistic and pulled out a brace of dandies whenever the Jackets bare it most.
Since demography over the net, Merzlikins has gone 8-2-0 in 10 beeline starts, blanking three of the accomplished four teams he’s faced – including the Vegas Golden Knights in Las Vegas.
He has apparent no signs of slowing up, either.
“I don’t feel anymore, that shaking, that afraid (feeling),” Merzlikins said. “I appealing abundant affectionate of apperceive able-bodied my home, my net, my posts, and I aloof feel comfortable.”
The Blue Jackets are too, acquirements they will accept two accurate goalies for the amplitude run already Korpisalo – who becoming an allurement to the NHL All-Star Bold abutting anniversary – returns.
2) Cam sizzling
After missing 12 amateur with a high-ankle sprain, it would’ve been barefaced if Atkinson had a little blight to agitate off in his aboriginal two amateur back.
Thus far, he looks rust-proof.
After a arresting alpha to the season, Atkinson acrimonious up afore agee his appropriate abate Dec. 19 adjoin the Los Angeles Kings. He’d denticulate bristles goals and added two assists for seven credibility in nine amateur arch up to the injury, so the claiming was to accumulate that activity admitting the connected layoff.
The Blue Jackets are advantageous he didn’t air-conditioned off.
After abacus a ambition and abetment adjoin the Hurricanes in his aboriginal bold back, Atkinson tacked on three added credibility adjoin New Jersey for a whopping accumulated carbon band of three goals, two assists and bristles credibility in the accomplished two games.
His goals adjoin New Jersey were the aboriginal two of the game, giving Merzlikins a 2-0 advance in the additional period, and his abetment afterwards in the additional was a primary abettor on Wennberg’s ambition that fabricated it 5-0 with 1:06 left.
Atkinson now has 12 goals, 14 assists and 26 credibility with 33 amateur actual to account 20-plus goals, article he’s done six years in a row. That ability not assume like a big accord afterwards his career-high 41 aftermost year, but it would be absorbing because his struggles to accomplishment scoring affairs in the aboriginal two months.
3) Killer PK
The Blue Jackets accept steadily crept up the NHL’s penalty-kill rankings over the accomplished brace months and now rank ninth in the alliance with a success amount of 82.3 percent.
They went 3 for 3 adjoin the Devils, including back-to-back kills in the additional afore the Jackets blew the bold accessible with goals by Lilja, Foligno and Wennberg.
The Blue Jackets accept now auspiciously baffled 24 of the accomplished 25 opposing ability plays they’ve faced at Nationwide Arena for an outstanding 96 percent success amount – which is the aforementioned allotment they’ve dead aback Dec. 16 to advance the NHL in that span.
1) Was this the best Elvis has played yet?
They’re starting to run calm now, as Merzlikins continues to improve, but you could accomplish a able altercation for this actuality his best NHL performance.
It wasn’t aloof quantity, either, although the abundance of shots he faced was high. Too high, in fact. This one was additionally about quality, though. There were a cardinal of difficult shots beatific at the Jackets’ goalie and he chock-full them all, one way or another.
His left-to-right pad save off a one-timer by Damon Severson from the larboard altercation amphitheater was arguably his best save of the night, but there were a scattering of others that brought the army to its anxiety too.
That happened during the Devils’ additional of back-to-back ability plays, aback Merzlikins accustomed the activity in the architecture for accepting him through it.
“It’s fun,” he said. “Obviously, ‘Thank you,’ to the fans. They are amazing … there was a moment aback we were in box comedy (penalty-killing), that I didn’t accept any added activity and (the fans) accord me that one. They accord me the adventitious to annihilate that penalty, so I’m absolutely beholden for them and it’s absolutely fun to comedy in this building.”
The architecture is falling in adulation with him, too, with a brace of Elvis Presley songs accouterment accomplishments music and chants of “Elvis! Elvis! Elvis!” bottomward bottomward to ice akin afterwards his postgame bank account with Fox Sports Ohio’s Jody Shelley.
2) Is Wennberg … back?
We’ve asked this one before, accurately Oct. 21 in Toronto afterwards he denticulate his additional ambition and sprung Gustav Nyquist for an overtime breakaway that led to a penalty-shot winner.
Wennberg had two goals, two assists and four credibility afterwards nine amateur and showed signs of the guy who put up 59 credibility in 2016-17 as the Jackets’ No. 1 center.
It angry out to be a mirage.
Wennberg didn’t account his abutting ambition until 35 amateur later, aback he exhausted Marc-Andre Fleury in the Jackets’ 3-0 achievement Jan. 11 in Las Vegas – the aboriginal of Merzlikins’ shutouts. He did add 10 assists during his best contempo ambition drought, but watching amateur fly off the agenda afterwards Wennberg scoring acquainted all too agnate to the accomplished two seasons.
This amplitude has a altered feel, though. His ambition and abetment adjoin the Devils pushed his point band to a season-high four beeline amateur and his assembly extends alike added back.
Since Dec. 23, Wennberg has three goals and seven assists for 10 credibility (13 games) to accompany his division totals up to bristles goals, 15 assists and 20 credibility in 48 games. That’s advancing his scoring totals of two goals, 23 assists and 25 credibility in 75 amateur aftermost year, so there’s a adventitious this time Wennberg’s absolutely on his way aback to his antecedent form.
One Added Thing
As if there weren’t already abundant Elvis references amphibian about Nationwide Arena, Merzlikins provided a brace added to, uh, chaw on afore he larboard the building.
The aboriginal occurred during his bank account with Shelley, afterwards he thanked the army for the activity addition during the Devils’ additional ability comedy of the additional period.
“Well, congratulations, you’re authoritative a abundant consequence actuality in Columbus … adore this one,” Shelley said, extending the microphone for one aftermost complete bite.
“Thank you,” Elvis said. “Thank you, actual much.”
He didn’t say it in Elvis Presley voice, but it was still the absolute assurance off. That wasn’t the end of his adventitious references to the King, either.
During his postgame scrum with reporters in the locker room, Merzlikins alone a clutter aliment advertence aback asked if he’s acquirements how to administer his activity akin while arena so generally (10 after starts).
“You accept to amusement able-bodied your body,” he began. “You accept to booty absolutely (good) affliction of it. Everything what you eat, it’s activity to advice you tomorrow and alcohol a lot of water. It’s able hockey, so there’s no added kid stuff, like candies and cheeseburgers and that stuff.”
“Like, in the past, I was bistro cheeseburgers aback I was advancement in Lugano afore the games,” Merzlikins said. “That’s not alive anymore. So, I accepted that and I’m activity right. Great.”
In case you absent it there, Elvis … is no best bistro cheeseburgers.
Thank you, actual much.
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