Blue Jackets “Finnish” Off Leafs, Avs

Joonas Korpisalo is a name most of you outside of Columbus are probably not familiar with. With goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney still out of the Blue Jackets lineup, they’ve had to call up BOTH their AHL goaltenders to fill in. Anton Forsberg played last Tuesday in Brooklyn. The Islanders took care of business that night with a 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets.

When asked to discuss the current state of the goaltending situation, coach John Tortorella went straight to the point. He appreciated their compete level and how hard they were trying, but mentioned “they are not NHL ready. I’m concerned that this experience will hinder their growth.” Strong but honest words about just how dire the situation was.

The Blue Jackets had to fly to Toronto for a game the night after their 5-2 loss to the Islanders. The Maple Leafs had time off and were awaiting the Blue Jackets. The Maple Leafs were handed an embarrassing 7-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks. As the more rested team, many thought this game would be a complete mismatch. The Leafs beat the Blue Jackets 6-3 earlier in the season, with Bobrvosky in net. After Forsberg struggled in New York, Tortorella turned to his other young goaltender Korpisalo to see what he could do.

Korpisalo entered that game with a GAA of over 3.00 and a save percentage of under .900. So what happens? We should have all seen this coming, right? Korpisalo shuts the Leafs out for 57:33, before Brad Boyes finally puts the Leafs on the board. That made the score 2-1 Blue Jackets.

Brandon Dubinsky emphatically finishes the game by slamming an empty net goal home with one second remaining, to seal a 3-1 win for the Blue Jackets. The story of this game was young Korpisalo. He finished the night with 41 saves and was named the game’s first star. Not bad if you consider that was just his 7th career NHL start.

Oh but this gets better for the young netminder. The Blue Jackets activated Bobrovsky off IR for this past Saturday’s game against the Avalanche. Forsberg returned to the AHL. Surely Korpisalo would become the backup since their $7 million man is back. But nope. Bobrovsky served Saturday’s game as Korpisalo’s backup.

Saturday’s game would serve as a stiffer test for the young Finnish netminder, given the likes of Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnion, Gabriel Landeskog and others attacking his net. The Avalanche came into Nationwide Arena as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They went on a 9-3-2 run to put themselves in a playoff spot. This again seemed like a mismatch.

Don’t tell that to Korpisalo or the Blue Jackets.

For the second straight game, Korpisalo shined and was the game’s first star. This time he made 29 saves against a playoff team playing some of its best hockey of the season. Korpisalo’s played infused confidence throughout the rest of the lineup.

The Blue Jackets defeated the Avalanche 2-1, thanks to a late goal by Jack Johnson. After the game, all the talk centered around the play of Korpisalo.

“He was awesome tonight. He was really good tonight.”, Ryan Murray said. “He made a couple huge saves, a couple breakaways, and he stood tall. He’s the main reason why we won tonight for sure.”

“I thought Korpi these past two games was outstanding.”, Tortorella said. “He was really solid tonight. There were a lot of bodies around him, a lot of screen shots. He made a great save in the third period, a couple of great saves in the third period to keep us at 1-1. So good for him. He was a big part of the win. When you score that first goal, it settles that young guy in, so good for him.”

What This Means Moving Forward

Korpisalo’s great play has both short and long-term effects for the Blue Jackets. In the short-term, the Jackets can now ease Bobrovsky back into the lineup. Remember that he was off IR, only to go back on after suffering a setback. The team wants to make sure Bobrovsky is 100% before playing in a game. The team has not announced who will start on Tuesday against Washington. But the Jackets can turn to Korpisalo if there is even the slightest question about Bobrovsky’s health. That’s a nice luxury to have given the circumstances.

Long-term, Korpisalo may have earned himself a chance to make the Blue Jackets sooner than later. McElhinney does have one more year left on his contract. Beyond that, the back-up position is a question mark. Korpisalo will eventually rejoin the Lake Erie Monsters, in the hopes of starting on a playoff run towards the Calder Cup. This NHL experience should certainly help his confidence. He may have just made his case to be a major part of the Blue Jackets later on down the road.

For now though, in a season where more things have gone wrong than right, Korpisalo’s week is worth celebrating. He went 2-0 with a 1.00 GAA and save percentage of .972, while earning first star of the game in both outings. Well done young man. Let’s see if the league comes calling recognizing him as a possible star of the week. He certainly deserves the consideration.