Battalion Breakdown is a closer look at the Blue Jackets' season on a player-by-player basis. Today, BlueJackets.com continues the series by looking at Joonas Korpisalo and his impact on the team's season.
Birth date: April 28, 1994
Birthplace: Pori, Finland
Height, weight: 6-3, 191
Stats: 37 GP, 19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 save percentage, two shutouts, 5.9 point shares, 1.14 GSAA
Contract: Signed through 2021-22 season (two years remaining)
There were plenty of feel-good stories on the Blue Jackets roster this year. Nathan Gerbe resurrected his NHL career and became a fan favorite in Nationwide Arena with his passionate play. Elvis Merzlikins overcame a difficult start to show he has what it takes to be an NHL goalie. A variety of young players got playing time they couldn't have expected before the season and showed their wares at the highest level.
But you could argue the coolest story around the team was the emergence of Korpisalo, who spent years serving as the team's backup only to finally prove to the league he can be a No. 1 goalie by putting up an All-Star worthy campaign.
He had one of the most difficult jobs in hockey over the past few seasons, averaging just 17 starts over the previous three campaigns while playing behind Sergei Bobrovsky, and he alternated impressive stretches with inconsistent play.
But the Blue Jackets saw enough in Korpisalo to think he could handle a bigger role, and there were a lot of people rooting for him as well. The affable Finn with a strong sense of humor became one of the most popular players in the locker room over the past few seasons, and there was hope he'd answer the bell given this big opportunity as well as everyone thought he could.
And Korpisalo did just that, turning in an impressive run in December that helped put the team on track for a playoff run before a postseason showing that turned heads across the league.
"I couldn't be more happy and excited for Korpi," Cam Atkinson said this season. "It's all about opportunity, and having Bob the last X amount of years, it's been hard for Korpi to really get a shot and to get his feet wet and just play on a regular basis.
"I've known all along how good Korpi is, just how he worked and how he battles and competes in practice and takes care of himself on the ice. I'm just happy that it's all working out for him. He was an All-Star this season for a reason."
Entering the season: Korpisalo was going to be in the spotlight after the offseason loss of Bobrovsky, and the reality is he was going to have to turn in better stats than he had the previous three years. While team brass made sure to point out just how hard it is to be a backup goalie, the reality was Korpisalo had a 3.06 GAA and .899 save percentage over the previous three seasons coming into the year. While he had shown he could get into a groove when trusted with the starting role for extended periods, Korpisalo was going to have to show he could do it over a full season.
Season recap: It wasn't the best start for Korpisalo -- he had a .886 save percentage in his first 10 games -- but a switch flipped for the Finnish goalie as soon as the team hit November.
In 22 games over the months of November and December, Korpisalo was as impressive as any goalie in the league, going 12-6-3 with a 2.11 GAA and .926 save percentage. Starting Dec. 9, he earned points in 10 straight starts to cement his All-Star bid, but he was on the wrong side of a bizarre situation in a Dec. 29 game vs. Chicago.
First, Columbus thought it had won the game on a Zach Werenski goal in the final moments in overtime, but replay showed it came an instant after the clock hit all zeroes, though the Blue Jackets had rightly argued extra time had elapsed from the clock at a whistle late in OT. Then, Korpisalo suffered a knee injury in the shootout, knocking him out for essentially the next two months in a game situation that shouldn't have even happened.
Korpisalo came back and made five appearances in February and March before the NHL pause, setting up a tremendous playoff showing. He was trusted with the start in Game 1 vs. Toronto and ended up with nine starts overall in the postseason, posting a 1.90 GAA and NHL-best .941 save percentage in the bubble.
"I've always known I can play games, I can play big games and a lot of games as well," Korpisalo said of his showing this season. "Early on I think I had a little bit of a slow start, but after that I kind of picked it up again and we started winning games. I think there were some steps I took this season."
It ended in a loss, but Korpisalo went down in the NHL record books when he made an astounding 85 saves in the Jackets' five-overtime loss to Tampa Bay in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series. Korpisalo broke the NHL modern-era record by 12 saves, besting what had been Kelly Hrudey's mark of 73 saves set in the 1987 "Easter Epic" playoff OT win for the New York Islanders. Korpisalo was special all postseason, but this performance will long be remembered as an extraordinary effort the likes of which the league has never seen before.
Video: All the best of Korpi.
By the numbers
1: Korpisalo earned his first career assist in a Dec. 9 win over Washington.
8: With two shutouts in the Stanley Cup Qualifier win over Toronto, he came just the eighth goalie in NHL history with at least blankings in a five-game series.
2: His All-Star Game selection made him just the second CBJ goalie to be selected for the contest, joining Bobrovsky in 2015 and '17.