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Second time around a much better debut for Merzlikins

Blue Jackets goaltender overcomes opening 'nightmare' to grab point vs. Blackhawks

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

It was 13 days, and you get the sense it was 13 days Elvis Merzlikins would rather not live through again. 

On Oct. 5, his NHL debut unraveled in a span of 20 minutes. After a scoreless first period against Pittsburgh that day, the Blue Jackets goalie came back out of the locker room and allowed five goals in the second on the way to a 7-2 loss to the Penguins. 

With Joonas Korpisalo taking the ball and running with it in the CBJ net in the meantime, Merzlikins had to wait 13 days to see his next action, which came last night in Chicago. 

"That was a nightmare," he said of his opening game. "I'd rather forget that. I'm not wishing to any kid to wait so many years to get to the NHL and wait for that moment and that game, and get seven goals scored on you. That was pretty painful." 

Video: Elvis comments on the OT loss.

So much so that Merzlikins said after Friday night's 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago that he'd like to revise history a bit. While the ebullient Latvian didn't get the victory against the Blackhawks, victimized by tough luck on the game-winning goal that bounced off Jonathan Toews and into the net, he did deliver 30 saves -- including excellent ones on Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane -- and gave the Blue Jackets a chance to win. 

"I am going to cheat and count this one as my debut," he said. "I win a point, I guess. It's a positive." 

Perhaps most encouraging was the support Merzlikins had from his Blue Jackets teammates. It was there on the ice, as Columbus continued the solid defensive hockey and active sticks that they had been displaying of late, rather than the odd-man rush festival that was on display against Pittsburgh. 

In addition, the Jackets had Merzlikins' back off the ice, starting from the second the horn sounded against the Penguins to the time he retook the net in the Windy City.  

Video: CBJ@CHI: Merzlikins knocks away Murphy's bid

"We have full confidence in him," Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "He's getting better and better in practice. You see it. From camp to now, there's a big difference in everything. He works extremely hard with (goaltending coach) Manny (Legace), so you like to see him play well tonight. It's disappointing we couldn't get a win for him, but he should be very proud of himself. He played a very good game, gave us a chance to win." 

"He played great," captain Nick Foligno said. "That's what (upsets) you, too, is to see him play as well as he did and not find a way to get a win for him, but it has to make him feel good about himself. It's coming. We knew he's a great goalie and he's going to bounce back." 

"It feels really good," Markus Nutivaara added of Merzlikins' performance. "I think it's good for him and for the team, and he gave us a chance to win. We just didn't score enough. I think they have good forwards, so they can always score one or two. We had the chances, but I don't know. It feels bad (we couldn't get the win)." 

Merzlikins' credentials have been solid -- he was twice the top goalie in Switzerland's top league and regularly turned heads playing for his home country in the World Championships -- but the transition to the speed and angles of the best league in the world has been a process. 

That process took another step in Chicago and will continue for much of the season. The next one, to Merzlikins, is to put his name in the win column. 

"Of course it's not the result that I wanted," Merzlikins said. "I came here to the rink and said I was going to win my first game. I was really (upset); I wanted to take this game. I really wanted it. The team helped me out a lot. They did huge blocked shots in front of me when I didn't see the puck. I thank them for that.  

"It was better. It wasn't seven goals, it was just three, so that's positive. I have to keep working hard and when I get my next chance, try to win." 

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