Merzlikins leads Blue Jackets' rout of New Jersey
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Elvis Merzlikins felt he was pretty lucky, especially near the end.
The Columbus Blue Jackets feel pretty fortunate every time he steps on the ice.
Merzlikins made a career-high 41 saves in his third shutout in his last four starts, and the Blue Jackets beat the New Jersey Devils 5-0 on Saturday night for their fourth straight win.
The 25-year-old Merzlikins, who was a star in the Swiss professional league before his NHL debut this season, is helping Columbus forget about Sergei Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy twice with the Blue Jackets before signing a free-agent contract with Florida last summer.
Merlikins has a 0.50 goals-against average and sterling .985 save percentage over his last four starts. The Latvian rookie is 8-2-0 since stepping in for the injured Joonas Korpisalo on Dec. 31.
“I think I was pretty lucky on a couple saves tonight, especially the last ones," Merzlikins said. "I didn’t have any reaction anymore working in my arms, so I was a little bit slow. Overall it was good game. We found a way.”
Cam Atkinson had two goals and an assist, helping the Blue Jackets improve to 14-2-4 in their last 20 games. Alexander Wennberg, Jakob Lilja and Nick Foligno also scored.
Columbus had 31 shots on goal compared to New Jersey's 41, but it also had Merlikins in net.
“As a team we played the first six minutes then watched Elvis play the rest of the first period and the second period,” coach John Tortorella said. “We played better in the third. I think Jersey, I don’t want to criticize, but I thought they knew it was 5-0 and a lot of wind comes out of their sails as far as our goaltending.”
Devils goalie Cory Schneider started for the first time since Nov. 8 and was chased late in the second period. Schneider had 13 saves in 32:14 and Mackenzie Blackwood recorded 13 stops the rest of the way.
After some great saves by Merzlikins early — including alertly pouncing on a puck that nearly trickled in off a teammate’s skate — Atkinson got the Blue Jackets on the board when he ripped a shot from the high slot past Schneider’s glove late in the first. Merzlikins had to make 19 stops as the Devils swarmed in the opening period.
Atkinson got his second goal 21 seconds after Merzlikins helped kill off a power play in the second. Atkinson — in his second game back from an ankle injury — beat Schneider from just inside the left circle off a neat setup by Emil Bemstrom.
Lilja made it 3-0 when he put back a rebound from the doorstep with 8:02 left in the second, and 16 seconds later Foligno tapped a loose puck between the pads of Schneider. Columbus led 5-0 at the second intermission despite being outshot 36-21.
The Devils were impressed with Blue Jackets' goalie.
“He played an unbelievable game,” All-Star forward Nico Hischier said. “We had some big chances. He kept us from some goals, but it should not be an excuse. We should have been more in front of his eyes and get more work in front of him and get one of those dirty goals. It’s really frustrating.”
NOTES: Wennberg increased his point streak to a season-high four games. ... New Jersey F Kyle Rooney returned after missing one game due to illness. ... Devils star F Kyle Palmieri missed his fourth game with a foot injury. He was put on injured reserve Thursday. ... Columbus F Sonny Milano was scratched for the second straight game. ... The Blue Jackets are 7-1-1 in their past nine home games.
Devils: At Ottawa on Monday.
Blue Jackets: At New York Rangers on Sunday.