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Viva Las Vegas! Merzlikins turns in first career shutout on big stage

Blue Jackets goalie continues his impressive performances in victory

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Elvis Merzlikins couldn't help himself. 

As he completed his first career NHL shutout Saturday night, he strummed his stick in the crease as though it was an imaginary guitar. After that he struck a pose with a hand pointed to the sky as though he was the Elvis Presley emoji, then as the handshake line finished, he raced to Nick Foligno, jumping into the captain's arms and nearly buckling his knees. 

After all, Elvis' first shutout was in Las Vegas. Viva, indeed. 

"I had to do it because we are in Vegas," he said with a smile. "I had to." 

After his 27-save performance against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Blue Jackets goalie was all smiles, and why wouldn't he be? You couldn't really write this script, with the man whose father Vjaceslav named him after The King turning in the best Elvis performance in Vegas in more than 40 years. 

Video: CBJ@VGK: Merzlikins records first NHL shutout

"My father, he really liked Elvis," Merzlikins said in the locker room after the performance. "He was a pretty big fan of him. I really don't remember what he had in the house from Elvis, but my mother told me he was listening to Elvis. I dedicated this win for him. I believe that from up there, he helped me." 

Merzlikins doesn't know a ton of Elvis' music -- "It's really old music for my generation," he said with laugh -- but he is familiar with one tune in particular. 

"Viva Las Vegas, I know," he said. 

And so it turned out his best performance since taking over for the injured Joonas Korpisalo took place on the Vegas Strip. He made a number of excellent saves -- including a pair of power-play denials of Paul Stastny and a snow-angel save on Cody Eakin moments after another Vegas man advantage ended -- but the most impressive part about his showing to head coach John Tortorella was how he commanded his crease. 

"He was solid," Tortorella said. "He made key saves at key times. I thought one of the better saves was on the power play (against Stastny), a seam pass, he came across and made a save. I think he just let the game come to him." 

Since Korpisalo went down, Merzlikins has won five of seven starts while turning in a .943 save percentage and a 1.88 goals-against average. It's been quite a turnaround from his helter-skelter start with the Blue Jackets when he played in 10 games without a win and turned in some solid showings along with some that likely shook his confidence a bit. 

Video: Elvis on first NHL career shutout

Then again, confidence is what makes Elvis, well, Elvis.  

"Of course it has helped al ot because you play one game after another," he said. "This was my first real chance to feel like myself, to feel in my skin, to feel my game. I wanted to see what I am capable of. (But) I don't want to judge now. I don't want to think about anything. I just want to play my hockey and try to enjoy it and have fun with it." 

Tortorella tries not to look too far into the future but has been impressed by the way Merzlikins has taken over the net in Korpisalo's absence. 

"Goaltenders can have talent, they can be athletic and all that, but I think he has a mind-set of he is strong there mentally," the head coach said. "He's a piece of work as far as his personality, which I really like, but I think he's strong that way. A lot of things have been thrown at him coming in here. We lose Korpi, and (he was not) playing much. 

"I think he's handled himself really well. I don't want to go overboard because (he has to perform) every night, and that's what he is going to go through here. He is going to have to learn about getting ready for every game and handle himself with preparation. But I'm happy for him." 

What was viewed as a turning point in the Blue Jackets' season occurred when Korpisalo was injured Dec. 29 vs. Chicago. Would Merzlikins step up and show his talents in the net, or would he struggle with the bright lights upon him? 

As Presley once crooned, Come along with me and put your mind at ease, because Merzlikins has taken command of the situation. That includes in the city his namesake was known for, and Elvis couldn't have produced a better stage for his first career shutout. 

"When I power napped (before the game) I was dreaming about this idea," he said. "Why not? It would be fun to make a first shutout of my career here in Vegas, especially because the people are all pumped up that I was playing here tonight. It was just a dream. It feels good. Still, I have to enjoy it a little bit and then just move on." 

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