It was the Bob and Elvis show for 60 minutes of regulation play, and something had to give.
Florida's Sergei Bobrovski and Columbus' Elvis Merzlikins traded great saves and pitched shutouts through regulation in an entertaining match-up on Tuesday night.
But it was Bobrovsky — the former Blue Jacket — who cracked first when Zach Werenski beat him 1:54 into overtime to give Columbus the 1-0 win and push its points streak to nine games.
Bobrovsky finished with 45 saves in arguably his best game as a Panther, and the rookie Merzlikins had 32 in picking up his fourth shutout of the season. The 25-year-old Merzlikins is 11-2 since taking over the starting job in that Dec. 31 game after Joonas Korpisalo went down with a knee injury.
“He plays with the confidence,” Bobrovsky said of his Blue Jackets counterpart. “You have to give him credit. He puts up good numbers. He helped the team when he replaced Korpi, who’s played well for the team, too. I give him credit. He battled hard. He’s a good goalie.”
Werenski picked up the puck off the right boards, circled around to the bottom of the circle and beat Bobrovsky after Merzlikins had already made a save in the extra period.
“I made a move out of the corner,” Werenski said. “The guy kind of went the wrong way, gave me some space. Saw Cam (Atkinson) backdoor and both guys went to him, and I saw an opening short-side and shot it.”
The Blue Jackets are on a roll, winning eight of the last nine to move up to third place in the Metropolitan Division. They haven't lost in regulation since Jan. 9, a streak of 8-0-1. They beat Bobrovsky on the Russian goalie's first return trip to Columbus on New Year's Eve, with Werenski recording his first hat trick and Merzlikins notching his first NHL win.
Columbus coach John Tortorella liked the effort on Tuesday.
“It’s one of our best overall games,” Tortorella said. “It certainly wasn’t played as a 0-0 game by either team. I’m happy with all facets of the game.”
The Panthers lost for just the second time in their last nine games. Bobrovsky started after beating Toronto 5-3 on Monday night in the first half of a road back-to-back.
“It’s not an ideal situation, but we came in and battled and did our best," Florida winger Mike Hoffman said. "Bob played outstanding to keep us in the game and give us a chance in overtime. We had a couple chances, they had a couple chances, and theirs just went in the back of the net.”
A Columbus goal by Boone Jenner 6:06 into the game was waved off after a review. Officials determined that Atkinson’s stick made contact with Bobrovsky’s glove and kept the goalie from making the save.
Both goalies downplayed the Bob vs. Elvis storyline.
“It’s not that I’m playing against Bob or it’s something special," Merzlikins said. "I’m just trying to win the games and get some points for the team, the organization. We want to get to the playoffs, and that’s our goal, and we want to maybe run away from the guys down below us (in the standings). Every point is important for us.”
NOTES: Columbus C Alexander Wennberg was placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury suffered Sunday at Montreal. He's expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Rookie Ryan MacInnis replaced him in the lineup. ... C Aleksander Barkov, Florida's second-leading scorer, missed his second game with a lower-body injury. ... Panthers D Mark Pysyk played in his 400th NHL game.
Panthers: Host Vegas on Thursday.
Blue Jackets: Host struggling Detroit on Friday.
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