Joonas Korpisalo will start for the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS, FS-O).
“We’re not in the bubble out here if it isn’t for those two guys,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said of the goalies. “They both had a lot to do with this team getting here. They both are very capable. We have decided on [Korpisalo] to start Game 1.”
Korpisalo made 11 saves without allowing a goal in 29:51 of a 4-1 exhibition victory against the Boston Bruins on July 30 in Toronto, the hub city in the Eastern Conference. Elvis Merzlikins finished the game, allowing one goal on 13 shots.
Korpisalo was 19-12-5 with a 2.60 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and two shutouts this season. He was selected to the Metropolitan Division team for the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game but was unable to play because of a knee injury sustained in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 29. He did not return until Feb. 24.
Merzlikins, a 26-year-old rookie, was 13-9-8 with a 2.35 GAA, .923 save percentage and five shutouts, tied for second in the NHL (Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights; Tuukka Rask, Bruins) behind Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets (six). He had three in a span of four games from Jan. 11-18.
“I just think [Merzlikins] understands [Korpisalo] has paid his dues,” Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said. “Not to knock Elvis and what he’s accomplished, but [Korpisalo] has been at it. He’s earned this opportunity. I think we’re really excited for this chance for him, full-on knowing that Elvis is fully capable of stepping in and playing.
“I think that’s the luxury we have, and that’s the hard decision that thankfully the coaches make and not us. We have two great goalies and we believe so strongly in both of them, and we’re excited to get going with [Korpisalo] here and make sure we hit the ground running.”