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FINAL: Blue Jackets 5, Devils 0

Atkinson scores twice as Blue Jackets win for 14th time in 20 games

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

The Blue Jackets ran their hot streak to 14-2-4 in the last 20 games with a 5-0 win against New Jersey on Saturday night in Nationwide Arena. 

Game in a Paragraph 

Columbus wasn't as dominant as the scoreboard showed, but did display excellent finishing with the victory over the Devils. The Blue Jackets blew the game open with a four-goal second period, as Cam Atkinson scored twice and the team also got goals from Jakob Lilja, Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg. Elvis Merzlikins carried it home from there, earning his third shutout in the last four games.

Video: NJD@CBJ: Merzlikins fuels Blue Jackets' shutout win

Quote of the Game

Head coach John Tortorella: "That score at the end of the second period could have been lopsided the other way. We had one guy play. As a team, we played the first six minutes and then we watched Elvis play for the rest of the first period and the rest of the second period. We played better in the third ... but don't kid ourselves on how this team played. We were not good, and Elvis deserves a tremendous amount of credit as far as finding our way tonight."

CBJ Notables 

  • Merzlikins was superb yet again, finishing with a career-high 41 saves -- including 21 in the first period -- on the way to his fourth straight win and eighth in 10 games. 
  • Atkinson continued to be on fire, notching his second and third goals in two games since returning from injury while adding an assist. He has eight goals in his last 10 games, 40 career game-winning goals and 16 games of at least three points in his CBJ tenure.
  • Wennberg had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to four games (3-2-5). He has a 3-6-9 line in his last 10 contests. 

Quick Recap (PHOTO GALLERY)

The Devils were all over the Blue Jackets in the first period with a 21-10 edge in shots on goals, but Merzlikins was excellent throughout the whole period. His pad save on a streaking Jack Hughes was his best stop, but he racked up stops on pucks from in close as New Jersey funneled the puck to the net throughout the period. 

Seth Jones hit the post on the first shift of the game, but Columbus grabbed its 1-0 first-period lead at the 14:49 mark as Atkinson tallied. A long flip out of the defensive zone by David Savard went off the leg of Nathan Gerbe at center ice, and Atkinson kicked it onto his stick, entered the zone and fired a shot from the top of the slot that deflected off a Devils' stick, swerved off the right post and into the net behind Cory Schneider. 

New Jersey again pushed early in the second, including a pair of power plays, but could not solve Merzlikins. His left-to-right save one a one-timer by Damon Severson on the power play was excellent and he also denied Jesper Bratt from in close twice in the period. 

Those stops held up as Columbus caught on fire late in the period, scoring four times in the last 11:20 of the period. Atkinson got the party started, as Emil Bemstrom created space and made a nice feed to Atkinson on the rush, and he quickly shifted the puck to his forehand and beat Schneider far side to his glove to make it 2-0 with his 12th goal of the year. 

Lilja then made it 3-0 at 11:58 with his second career NHL goal. Scott Harrington made an excellent pass from the left point to find Lilja in front, and while his first shot was stopped by Schneider, the Swede followed the rebound and tucked it home. 

It was 4-0 just 16 seconds later as Foligno got his second goal in as many games. Vladislav Gavrikov carried the puck from the left point behind the net and centered to Foligno, who followed his own rebound and backhanded it under Schneider.  

Video: Merzlikins, Blue Jackets shut out Devils

Schneider was replaced by Mackenzie Blackwood at that point, but Wennberg made it 5-0 with just 1:06 left in the period. As the Jackets entered the zone, two Devils went to Atkinson as he came up the left wing, and his pass to Wennberg gave the CBJ a 2-on-1 in deep that Wennberg quickly converted with a shot over Blackwood's glove.

From there, the third period was largely academic, with Blackwood making a sterling glove save on a Markus Nutivaara shot early in the frame for the period's best stop. 

3 Takeaways

1. Elvis mania has taken over, and why wouldn't it? Look at his last four starts -- three shutouts, a total of two goals allowed, and a save percentage of .985. It's one of those hot streaks a goaltender might never got on at the NHL level, and Merzlikins is doing it as a rookie who had the weight of an entire season placed on his shoulders when Joonas Korpisalo went down. It's been, frankly, sensational, from his play to the energy he has provided a team and a fan base. This might have been his best showing because, as Tortorella said, the Blue Jackets were well off their game the opening 30 minutes. "That was very good goaltending tonight," Tortorella said. As for Merzlikins himself, he admitted to being short on energy at times but credited the crowd for bringing it back to him. Facing 21 shots on goal in the first 20 minutes will do that. "They put shots on net right away," he said of the Devils. "I got warmed up. I prefer a lot of shots, although tonight was really too many of them (laughs). But yeah, I kind of got into my game."

2. Merzlikins had to be so good because the Blue Jackets had a 25-minute span from the first media timeout to the middle of the third period where they were simply hemmed into their zone. Tortorella didn't quite have steam coming out of his ears postgame, but he also made sure to point out that the Jackets didn't deserve their lead based on their play. "We didn't win a damn battle after the six-minute mark of the first period," he said. "It was almost embarrassing, our battle level." The team righted the ship some in the third -- though frankly, New Jersey saw the writing on the wall and wasn't exactly pushing -- but the Blue Jackets have to find a way to spend less time in their defensive zone going forward than they have the past few games.

3. Atkinson has been a breath of fresh air since his return, as his trademark smile is back after putting three pucks in the net in his two games since coming off injured reserve. In all, he has a 3-2-5 line in those two games. Pretty good, eh? "I'm just feeling confident," he said. "I'm still taking it a shift at a time, but I'm progressing and feeling better each shift and each game. Just playing the way that I am used to playing, and I got a lot more to go." He's scoring goal-scorers goals though of late, getting into dangerous areas and then finishing. There might be something to the fact that his injury layoff has added a pep to his step, which could pay off down the stretch. "You see him -- he's a difference maker," Foligno said. "It's great to have his energy back. It's infectious throughout the team."

Notable 

The goal-scoring output tied a season high for the Blue Jackets. ... The goals by Lilja and Foligno were the fastest back-to-back goals by the Blue Jackets this season. … Gavrikov has an assist in three straight games and four of six. He is plus-17 since Dec. 5, best in the NHL. … Gerbe has a 2-3-5 line in his last seven games. … Bemstrom has a four-game point streak with two goals and two assists. … After a 12-10-22 line in a 21 game span, Zach Werenski broke a four-game pointless streak with an assist. … The Jackets are 18-7-5 this year vs. Eastern foes. … Columbus notched its fifth shutout of the season. ... The Blue Jackets have outscored foes 30-11 in their last nine home games while going 7-1-1. … The attendance of 18,680 was the sixth sellout of the season in Nationwide Arena and the fourth in the last six home games. … The Jackets have won nine in a row against the Devils including five straight in Columbus. The Devils have just 14 goals i the last 13 games against Columbus.

Roster Report 

Columbus kept the same lineup as the win over Carolina on Thursday night. Scratches were forward Sonny Milano, defenseman Adam Clendening and injured goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. 

Up Next 

The Blue Jackets face a back-to-back, taking on another Metropolitan Division foe Sunday night with a game against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden.  

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