Cup Qualifiers Buzz: Merzlikins to start Game 4 for Blue Jackets

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Welcome to the Stanley Cup Qualifiers Buzz. The Qualifiers are in full swing, with games starting Aug. 1 in hub cities Toronto (Eastern Conference) and Edmonton (Western Conference), and will continue through Sunday. There are 22 teams still playing for the Stanley Cup after the New York Rangers were eliminated Tuesday and the Winnipeg Jets were eliminated Wednesday. 

Here’s a look around the NHL at the latest from the Qualifiers:

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Elvis Merzlikins will start for the Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their Stanley Cup Qualifier against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, TVAS, FS-O). 

Merzlikins relieved Joonas Korpisalo at 8:48 of the second period in Game 3 on Thursday in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, after Korpisalo allowed three goals on 15 shots. He made 21 saves, helping the Blue Jackets rally from three goals down for a 4-3 overtime victory, giving them the lead in the best-of-5 series.

Columbus can advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a victory. The Blue Jackets have won one postseason series since entering the NHL in 2000; they swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round last year.

It will be the first NHL postseason start for Merzlikins, a 26-year-old rookie who was 13-9-8 with a 2.38 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and five shutouts in 33 games (31 starts) this season.

 

Montreal Canadiens

Alex Belzile is expected to replace Jake Evans in the lineup and make his NHL debut, when the Canadiens try to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the best-of-5 qualifier series Friday (4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS, ATTSN-PT).

Belzile, who was ruled unfit to play in the first three games of the series, “is likely the guy to go in,” coach Claude Julien said Friday. He had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 20 games with Laval of the American Hockey League this season.

Evans left his NHL postseason debut with 7:18 remaining in the second period of Montreal’s 4-3 win in Game 3 in Toronto on Wednesday when he was checked into the boards by Penguins forward Brandon Tanev.

“I haven’t heard much since last night,” Julien said Thursday. “Obviously, he got rocked on that hit. I would say right now doubtful for tomorrow. If that’s the case, we’ll see what we want to do here with our lineup. I haven’t made that decision yet.”

The series winner advances to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The loser will have a 12.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Monday.

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