‘Devils in the Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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Mired in a dreadful six-game losing streak, someone had to do something extraordinary to the kick the New Jersey Devils back into life.
It was only fitting that “Old Reliable,” Patrik Elias, would be the man to pull the Devils even to complete a comeback from 2-0 down and force overtime with 1:06 remaining in regulation.
David Clarkson’s shot from along the boards resulted in a big, juicy rebound let up by Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth. Elias’ alert positioning and anticipation culminated in a very important goal as the prospect of a seventh consecutive loss stared the Devils in the face.
Still, the Devils needed to complete a gutsy overtime victory to avoid their first seven-game losing streak since 1986. Sabres captain Jason Pominville unleashed a blast that rung the post and Devils defenseman Andy Greene nearly won the game for New Jersey in the final minutes.
After Clarkson scored a stylish backhander in the shootout, Elias pulled off a world-class deke on Ryan Miller to win the shootout and give the Devils their first victory since February 21. Miller, who came in to replace Enroth, wildly attempted a poke-check and Elias buried the puck in the net to seal the 3-2 shootout win.
“It’s huge, obviously,” Elias said after Thursday’s victory. “We lose six games in a row, and maybe three or four games we could have won out of those games and didn’t find a way. We’re happy with the two points tonight and hopefully that’s going to turn around for us and jumpstart us again here for the weekend.”
While much of the chatter this week around the New York metro area is focused on immortal Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, there’s another one-team icon on the other side of the Hudson River who deserves a share of the spotlight for his commitment to a Devils team that has mirrored the consistency of the Bronx Bombers.
Since his first full season in 1997-98, Elias has been as consistent as they come among NHL forwards. Like Rivera, there hasn’t been any decline in Elias’ game. Last season, Elias totaled 78 points in 81 games. This year, he’s at a point-per-game rate, scoring 24 points in 24 games. Not bad for a player who will turn 37 in April.
“Mr. Consistency” Still Has A Few Years Left At The Top
Elias has stated that he wishes to play three or four more years. No one doubts Elias’ ability to play in this league into his 40s. His cleverness, eye for a pass and goal-scoring instincts haven’t suffered at the hands of time.
“I’m hoping to play for at least another two, three, four years … whatever I can play,” Elias stated in January. “I enjoy it. I love it. I’m in good shape. I’m in better shape than I probably was a few years back.”
Elias holds nearly every record possible in Devils history. He has the most goals (368), most assists (550) and most points (918). The list goes on. He has the highest point total a season (96), the most points a playoffs (23) and a franchise-best 78 game-winning goals.
His 45 playoff goals, 80 playoff assists and 125 postseason points are all franchise highs. The only record he doesn’t hold is games played in Devils uniform, as he is bettered by “Mr. Devil” Ken Daneyko and legendary teammate Martin Brodeur.
On top of his individual records, Elias has twice lifted the Stanley Cup, and his clutch play paved the way for four appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals since 2000.
There aren’t any signs of Elias slowing down. As evidenced on Thursday, Elias is still scoring important goals and his performance against the Sabres may have finally given the Devils the push they need to turn their once-promising season around.
“I think we were due for a bounce,” Devils head coach Pete DeBoer explained. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve been working here for a week or two and played some pretty good hockey and haven’t got it, and we got it tonight. I think it was a perfect storm. We went through a week or 10 days where we didn’t get rewarded for some of our work. We didn’t get some bounces or help ourselves, and it snowballed on us.
“Hopefully that’s the end of it and we can move this in a positive direction.”
As for Elias, it’s hard to imagine him not being a crucial part of the Devils’ plans going forward. By the time his prestigious career comes to a close, his No. 26 will be raised to the ceiling at Prudential Center alongside the current retired numbers of Scott Stevens, Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer. Eventually, it will stand next to Brodeur’s No. 30, as the two were the pillars of the post-Stevens era Devils.
More importantly, once Elias finally decides to hang up his skates, it will be fairly obvious that his next stop will be the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Is Patrik Elias a surefire Hall of Famer? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.