LAS VEGAS (AP)It’s only fitting Elvis Merzlikins earned his first career shutout at T-Mobile Arena.
After all, the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender was named by his late father after the iconic entertainer who once starred on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Merzlikins made 27 saves to lead the Blue Jackets past the Vegas Golden Knights 3-0 Saturday night.
“When I power napped, I was dreaming for idea. Why not? Would be fun to make first shutout of career, here in Vegas,” said the 25-year-old rookie, who was filling in for injured starter Joonas Korpisalo. “It was just a dream. It feels good. But still now, I have to enjoy it then just move on.”
Merzlikins, who improved to 5-6-4 in 17 games, decorates different areas of his locker every game with religious pieces, the main one sitting at the top, a piece given to him from his grandmother in remembrance of his father.
“I’m really superstitious. During the game, I talk all the time (to him),” said Merzlikins, who has almost no memory of his father, Vjaceslav, whom he dedicated his shutout to afterward. “I believe he is helping me from up there. I never kind of met him, because I was three years old. For me, it is really important because that is somebody is helping me from up there because I really believe in that.”
Elvis Merzlikins has started seven straight games for Columbus, and since taking the bulk of the starts with Korpisalo’s injury, he’s gone 5-2-0, with his five wins since Dec. 31 – the second-most in the NHL. He has a .943 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average since New Year’s Eve, which both rank fourth among goaltenders with a minimum of three games played.
“He was solid,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said of his young netminder. “He made key saves at key times. I think he just let the game come to him.”
David Savard, who ranks fifth in the league with 98 blocked shots, came up with five huge blocks to assist Merzlikins in the win.
Since Nov. 6, the Blue Jackets’ 2.26 goals-against average is best in the NHL, having allowed 70 goals in 31 games.
Emil Bemstrom, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alexander Wennberg scored for Columbus.
The Blue Jackets are 11-2-4 since Dec. 9, one point behind Tampa Bay for most in the NHL during that span.
Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury made 19 saves.
First period woes continued for the Golden Knights, who allowed the first goal for the sixth straight game. Bemstrom scored on a power-play one-timer to make it 1-0 late in the first.
The Golden Knights – who ended a seven-game homestand losing three straight – have been outscored 10-0 in the first period over their last four games.
“There was no contact tonight,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “It was a soft game and we gotta play harder than that. It’s a tough way to end our homestand, but it is what it is and we gotta move on. We gotta play a lot better than that to win.”
Vegas fell behind 2-0 for the fourth straight game when Scott Harrington’s shot from the point was deflected by Dubois 2:06 into the second period. Columbus finished the scoring when Wennberg notched his first goal since Oct. 21.
The Golden Knights continued to struggle on their power play, going 0 for 3. Since Dec. 5, Vegas has converted on 18.4% of its power plays (7 of 38) – 21st in the league.
The closest Vegas came to a goal was about two minutes into the third period, when T-Mobile Arena’s entertainment staff prematurely blew the goal-horn and blasted smoke from the top of the glass at each end after Reilly Smith streaked in on the right side and clanked the puck off the crossbar.
“I thought we came out and started the game good, the first five, six minutes,” Gallant said. “We didn’t score on our power play, they scored on their power play and the game changed after that.”
NOTES: Vegas’ Gerard Gallant coached his 540th game and is six shy of tying Hap Day for 61st on the career list. … Keegan Kolesar, who was drafted by Columbus in the third round of the 2015 draft, made his NHL debut for the Golden Knights. … Columbus has killed off 10 straight Golden Knight power plays the past five meetings.
Blue Jackets: Host Boston on Tuesday night.
Golden Knights: Visit Buffalo on Tuesday night.
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