(Patrik Elias embraces Kyle Palmieri on Saturday night – @NJDevils)
Devils forward Patrik Elias made it back from injury to play the final three games of the season, with the looming possibility that this is the end of his career.
With Elias’ possible farewell looming over the season finale on Saturday night, the fans showed their appreciation in case this was goodbye.
Elias, who turns 40 years old on Wednesday, was out from December with a knee injury and played just 16 games this season.
Elias has 1,025 points in his career, with 408 goals and 617 assists in his career.
Since his debut in 1995, Elias won two Stanley Cups with the Devils, in 2000 and 2003, and is one of the last members of the 2012 Eastern Conference championship team.
On Saturday night, he was in the starting lineup with Devante Smith-Pelly and Pavel Zacha, who was making his NHL debut.
The fans serenaded Elias with chants of his nickname “Patty! Patty!” right from the opening faceoff.
The game went as well as the Devils could have imagined, as Smith-Pelly scored 9:10 into the first period on an assist from Zacha, Adam Hnrique scored two goals to finish with 30, Kyle Palmieri got his 30th goal on an empty net to make it 4-1 with 2:56 remaining in the third period.
That wasn’t all, as Elias scored with 16 seconds left to make it a 5-1 Devils win and send the crowd into a frenzy.
Elias said of soaking in the atmosphere, “I did, I enjoyed it, you have to. It’s a possibility I won’t be playing again, it’s reality, just have to face it, but maybe it’s just reality that I won’t be playing here, so who knows, all those things kind of consider and it was a fun night.”
Elias said of the fans, “I can’t say enough, obviously. They’ve been good to me throughout all my career so far, good years, bad years. I didn’t get too much negatively written or just said about me, and that has a lot to do with all of you guys (media), you guys gave me a lot of respect and I appreciate it. But the fans, it’s a great thing and it’s very much appreciated.”
On how perfect the night went, Elias said, “We were talking from the half point on, just get Palms (Kyle Palmieri) one, once Rico (Adam Henrique) got one, get him that one, and it just worked out perfectly. And, last one, Palms was like ‘let’s get you one,’ I’m like ‘I don’t think there’s enough time,’ but he goes ‘I had no idea you were out there!’ (on his goal) in front, just threw it out there. It was just a great night, overall a great hockey game. I know it was against a team that hasn’t been playing that well, has been out of the playoffs for a while, a lot of young guys and all that. You still, no matter the circumstances, you have to go out and play the game, and we did tonight.”
On if he got emotional during the game, Elias said, “I did, especially in the warmup when I saw my buddies there in the corner. I was looking just in the right corner, and my wife (Petra) was standing right by the sambonis with my two girls. She’s like pointing at something, and I’m like what is she talking about, all of a sudden I notice the big sign and the big flag, so I just kind of waved. I took a second look because two of my friends just flew in, and one of those guys was my conditioning coach and one of my very good friends, so it was a great surprise.”
Elias said of a message to the fans if this is it, “Let’s wait with that message. I hope not, I truly hope it’s not, but if it is, all the support throughout the years, the good years, sometimes it’s easy, but especially the bad years when the team’s not playing well, the support is much appreciated. Not just for me, but for this whole team and organization, I always appreciate their support and cherish it.”
Elias said of when he will decide to come back this summer, “I think it’s just gonna be communication between me and (Devils General Manager) Ray (Shero) just to kind of first, to see if there’s even a chance, if there’s even a possibility of me coming back and then we’ll go from there. I gotta realize what it’s going to take and see if Coach, if John (Hynes) even would consider having me around the team, that’s pretty much going to be those first two conversations and we’ll go from that.”
Elias said of going out this way, having barely played this season and showing he still has a lot left with these final three games, “I know the circumstances, the team’s not going to the playoffs, playing teams out of the playoffs, maybe the intensity is not where it should be, but we still played one of the best teams in the East, Tampa, and I enjoyed those games. It gave me a lot of confidence that maybe I can still play. That (knee) injury I had to deal with takes away from your speed and everything, your hockey skills, but I’m pleasantly surprised with the way I felt, I’m not gonna lie. We’ll see where we go, I hope this is not it.”
Devils Head Coach John Hynes said of appreciating a night like that forElias, “Yeah, for sure, I think it’s really nice that Patrik was able to have the game that he had and I think the fan support that he got throughout the game was fantastic and very well-deserved.”
Hynes said of the Elias-Zacha–Smith-Pelly line, “It looked good. They were one of the better lines on the ice, and you could see right off the bat, right after their first shift, Patty (Elias) was really excited and going I think right off the start, and then Pavel (Zacha) was going pretty well and Smith-Pelly complemented those guys. It was impressive to watch and they were big factors tonight.”
Elias said of playing with those two young players, Zacha and Smit-Pelly, “They make me look good, oh my God. Pavel, I told them, they should have brought Pavel from the get-go. I think it was a fun night for him to play with me, for me to play with him, the chemistry, there were a couple of unbelievable plays. It happens quickly, you react quickly, it was fun for me and fun for him, so hopefully this is not it.”
Pavel Zacha said of the big night for Elias, “Yeah, for sure, it might be his last game, hopefully not. I’m really happy for him that he played a great game and he was the first star of the game. I’m proud of him, to play the way he does is really hard. I’m really happy for him.”