Elvis Merzlikins said that a Dallas Stars fan taunted him by mentioning Matiss Kivlenieks, his late former teammate, as the Blue Jackets came out of the tunnel for the start of Monday's game in Columbus.
"There are some stupid people in this world," Merzlikins explained post-game. "That was really bad what happened in the tunnel when I was walking out. There was a fan from Dallas who provoked me about Matiss.”
The Blue Jackets goaltender didn't let that faze him as he stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 4-1 win over Dallas. His bid for a shutout was ended in the closing minutes on a goal by Tyler Seguin.
"I was expecting a shutout, because I believe in karma," Merzlikins added. "After the first period, the three posts that I got, I really (firmly) believed in karma. I saw that (Matiss) was really there."
During the off-season, the 24-year-old Kivlenieks tragically lost his life in a fireworks accident on July 4. He was, by all accounts, a remarkable human who had grown into being a promising goaltending prospect in the Blue Jackets system, and his death had a far-reaching impact within the organization.
Perhaps no one on the team was impacted more by the death of Kivlenieks than Merzlikins.
Merzlikins invited Kivlenieks to live with him and the two formed a strong bond. Merzlikins often compared Kivlenieks to a little brother and was going to ask him to be his daughter's godfather just before he passed. He recently explained to ESPN's Emily Kaplan that the grief from Kivlenieks' has been tough to process.
"Sometimes you don't control it, it just hits you," said Merzlikins. "I'm totally fine, then I'm sitting outside in patio and drinking my scotch and looking at the sky, and you start thinking about him, and miss him ..."
Going into the season, the 27-year-old said his focus was to honour Kivlenieks by going all-in to be the best goalie in the NHL and win the Vezina Trophy.
Merzlikins is living up to promise so far as he's been stellar to start the season, going 4-0 with a 1.48 GAA and a .952 save percentage.
"There are goals where I want to go, what I want to reach. Alone, I'm not going to reach them. I need help, from my teammates and from Matiss," he said. "I believe he's going to help me."