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Merzlikins hopes goalies can make Jackets 'dangerous' down the stretch

The Latvian goalie has been holding up his end of the bargain recently with his strong play

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

It would be a stretch to say Elvis Merzlikins woke up Tuesday morning feeling dangerous, but that is the vibe he's going for as the Blue Jackets try to make their playoff push. 

Not much has gone according to the plan for the Blue Jackets goalies this season -- both Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo have had their fair share of injuries and occasional inconsistencies -- but the way those two have played down the stretch has the Latvian netminder excited. 

Korpisalo has posted a .916 save percentage in his last 11 appearances, while Merzlikins is at .926 over his last eight games.  

That's the kind of goaltending that can lead to a late-season surge, and while Merzlikins admits he wants the net as much as possible -- as any goalie would -- he sees a duo that can lead the Blue Jackets to a strong finish. 

Video: Postgame: Merzlikins (3/30/21)

"We are two great goalies," Merzlikins said after Tuesday night's win in Tampa Bay. "We (have been) playing one (game) each, but obviously, as me, I want to play every game and Korpi wants to play every game. When we have this chance to play consistently, I think we can get dangerous. 

"From my side, I know if I am going to keep playing I am gonna feel great. Obviously there is a lot of really close games (on the schedule) and you get tired, but still, I know that I can get dangerous." 

He's not quite Baker Mayfield, but Merzlikins has a point. And he's the one who has impressed over the last three games, as Korpisalo has been out with a nagging lower-body injury, leaving Merzlikins to have the net over the weekend in Detroit and Tuesday night in Tampa. 

All Merzlikins has done in that span is stop 93 of 99 shots (.939 save percentage) and serve as the team's best player in all three games, including in Tuesday night's 37-save performance to help push the team to a crucial 3-1 victory over the Lightning.  

"He looked comfortable and he made some really big saves on tips and stuff like that that are hard saves for him," defenseman David Savard said. "He looked good. He gave us a chance to win the game, and it's always fun to see when your goalie looks really good in the net. It's a good sign for him, and I think he's just going to build on that." 

That's what Merzlikins wants. Both he and Korpisalo have talked this season about how they respect one another and work well with one another -- something seen in the daily goalie practices with coach Manny Legace, which are always filled with laughter and camaraderie -- but also about how each one wants to be the goalie who takes the net and runs with it at a certain point. 

It's honesty, and after all, it's no fun being the guy sitting on the bench opening the door rather than being the guy with the game in his hands. Both showed a year ago they could be the man to take the ball and run with it, a feeling Merzlikins is hoping he's in the midst of recapturing. 

"Honestly, this year I (have felt) useless," he said before referencing a year ago, when he finished fifth in the Vezina Trophy voting and fifth in the Calder Trophy voting as well. "I want to play. This is more personal, more for myself. I don't feel that I am the Elvis from last year.  

"I get it - less games, there is closer games (on the schedule), there is two good goalies. We both have to play and all that stuff, but I don't yet feel that No. 1 feeling. I want to feel that feeling just for myself to come to the end of the season and say to myself, 'Yes, Elvis, you did something good.'" 

His play in recent games might allow him that possibility, though with the Blue Jackets in the midst of 10 games in 17 days, Korpisalo will surely get his chance to get back in the net as well as soon as he feels fully ready to go. But in the meantime, Merzlikins turned heads with his showing last night in Tampa Bay, providing a calming presence for the Blue Jackets whenever Tampa Bay got ramped up and started throwing puck after puck at the CBJ net.  

"The way he played, I think it helped settle the team down," head coach John Tortorella said. "It wasn't craziness. He just settled us down and found the puck in traffic. I thought we did a pretty good job on rebounds and around the net, and I thought we settled ourselves down in the second half of the third period after they scored and got some juice. 

"When we had some breakdowns and they had some pressure, Elvis stood in there and gave us an opportunity." 

Time will tell how the goaltending duties will break down the rest of the season, but at the very least, Merzlikins feels the Jackets can be dangerous down the stretch. 

"This kind of game, it is going to help me go where I want to go, you know, which is up," he said after Tuesday's win. "I just want to keep playing my game, don't have any distractions, just focus on my job and on my game. Still, this game wasn't perfect. I know where I did mistakes. I am going to look at the video with Manny and get my game better." 

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