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Devils-Panthers: A Night to Remember for Elias

By Stan Fischler
January 6, 2012

Patrik Elias celebrated his 1000th National Hockey League game as a Devil on Friday night at The Rock.

As a matter of fact, he did it in royal fashion, playing a major role in New Jersey’s 5-2 victory over Florida.

The trick also was for a Hollywood ending with the veteran Czech, leading his in-and-out club to victory against the visiting Panthers.

A goal and two assists hardly amounted to small potatoes for his Devils, who have pulled into a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins, each with 46 points, although the Pens have a game in hand.

“It was a big, exciting night for Patrik,” said captain Zach Parise, “and he put on a nice show.”

Approaching the season’s halfway point shy of a playoff berth, the Devils gave themselves a big boost, knowing that they have little margin of error, especially since they are visiting the Pens on Saturday night. 

It took less than four minutes for New Jersey to break the scoring ice. Rookie of the Year candidate Adam Henrique converted a pass from hustling Parise, putting a neat deke on Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom at 3:53. 

The teams were skating 4-on-4 at the time when Henrique made it 11 red lights on the season. 

New Jersey failed to seize on the momentum, and no more than four minutes later the game was tied at one. 

The Panthers responded with a speedy breakout from their defense.  

Marcel Goc slipped behind defenseman Bryce Salvador, and aided by a pokecheck from Adam Larsson, dropped a pass to an on-rushing Mikael Samuelsson, who fired a wrister past Johan Hedberg at 7:33 for his second goal of the season. 

Elias delivered what the fans were waiting for; the Devils go-ahead goal 36 seconds into the second period. 

The play began with an aggressive forecheck by Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus.  Their work down low forced a turnover with the puck skimming back to Mark Fayne at the right point. 

Fayne moved the rubber to defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who slipped a pass to Elias.  The Milestone Man fired a knuckle-puck that beat Markstrom. 

“It was a good play by Zubie and Sykora to keep the puck deep in the zone,” Elias said.  “A lot of good things happened on that play.” 

Once again the lead was short-lived. The Panthers exploited New Jersey’s fourth line, forcing the local’s defense deeper than desired. That allowed Krystofer Barch to move in deep enough to beat Hedberg at 2:46 to score his first goal of the season. 

The Devils regained the lead at 11:40 of the final period, when Ilya Kovalchuk and Elias worked a neat give-and-go down the length of the ice.  

After taking a pass from Matt Taormina, Kovalchuk skated the puck up the ice and passed it off to Elias as the Devils made their way into the Panthers' zone.  

Kovalchuk then raced towards the net and one-touched the return pass from Elias past Markstrom for his 13th goal of the season. 

The game would not end without some late drama.  Parise took a delay-of-game penalty at 17:08, when his attempted clear of the zone went over the glass. 

Not only were they able to kill it off, but Kovalchuk added an empty-net goal shorthanded that would seal the win. 

Parise would add a second empty-net goal that made it a 5-2 final

Hedberg was especially sharp in goal, tightening his game in the third period, and finishing with 22 saves on the night. 

“Moose played a terrific game for us when we needed the big saves in the third period,” concluded coach Peter DeBoer. “But we’re going to need to be tighter against the Penguins.” 

Against Pittsburgh, DeBoer will need defense play the likes of which was provided by Bryce Salvador.  The veteran D-man was particularly effective in killing the late Parise penalty. 

“It was a big win for us, and an unbelievable feeling (for Elias),” Salvador allowed, “it’s a big game for us in Pittsburgh.” 

As for Elias, he had kind words for just about everybody in the arena. 

“Thanks for your support throughout this 16 year career,” Elias said as showed his gratitude to the home crowd in a center ice interview piped to the appreciative audience.  

Then, a pause and a wave to the crowd, “hopefully I have a couple more hundred games left in me!”

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