If this is goodbye to Patrik Elias in New Jersey Devils black-and-red, then what a farewell it was. In a 5-1 defeat of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Devils played a game for the ages that may well have summed up Elias’ time as a Devil: reliable, unselfish, a leader by example.
With nothing really to play for, the team would see two players reach the plateau of 30 goals and play an all-around strong game.
Three Devils made their NHL debuts last night: Steven Santini, Miles Wood and the much-touted Pavel Zacha. Zacha, a native of the Czech Republic, played primarily on a line with Patrik Elias and Devante Smith-Pelly. He would gain two assists on the night and show some good chemistry with the veteran Eilas.
In goal, Cory Schneider was back in net for the Devils. He made 19 saves on 20 shots, including some while practically standing on his head. Opposing him for the Leafs was Garret Sparks. He made 31 saves on 35 Devils shots.
But despite Cory’s stellar play, this night was not about the goaltenders. It was all about what the guys up front were doing.
The Devils fell behind early when former-Islander PA Parenteau scored his 20th of the year from Brooks Laich and Andrew Campbell at 2:53 of the first period. During the first TV timeout after Toronto took the lead, the Devils showed a video tribute to Lou Lamoriello on the jumbotron and Lou was shown acknowledging the crowd in his first official trip back to Prudential Center as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The crowd on hand gave him a standing ovation.
And from there on, it was all Devils.
Devante Smith-Pelly knotted things up at 9:10 of the first when Zacha won the offensive zone draw and pushed it forward to Smith-Pelly, who buried it behind Sparks. It was Zacha’s first NHL point and Smith-Pelly’s 14th goal of the season. It was 1-1 going into the first intermission.
The Devils came out roaring in the second period, with Adam Henrique scoring his 29th of the year at just 58 seconds into the second frame when Adam Larsson, who was set up at the point, took a pass from Patrik Elias. Larsson fired on net and Henrique gathered the rebound and stuffed it home. It was now 2-1 Devils and Henrique was one goal closer to the 30 goal mark.
That 30th goal would occur about 10 minutes later when John Moore hit Tuomo Ruutu with a nice breakout pass and both Ruutu and Henrique converged on the Toronto net. The puck went in off of Henrique’s skate and was in fact reviewed to make sure there was no kicking motion. There was not and Henrique got credit for his 30th of the season at 10:42. It was now 3-1 Devils.
The time spent in the penalty box was skewed towards the Maple Leafs, as they had twice as many penalties as the Devils did. The Devils were 0-for-6 on the power play while the Leafs were 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
The Maple Leafs pulled Sparks with about three minutes left in the third period in a Hail Mary type attempt to salvage the game. What occurred was something special. Pavel Zacha dug the puck out of the near corner in the Devils end of the rink. He pushed it up to Patrik Elias, who had a clear shot at the empty net, but passed it up to give it to Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri potted the puck and had his 30th goal of the season at 17:04 of the third period. It was a show of Patrik Elias’ unselfishness and class. He passed up a clear shot at a goal for himself to give his teammate a chance to hit a personal milestone.
But he was not done. At 19:44 of the third, Palmieri would return the favor by forechecking hard and causing a turnover behind the Toronto net. He centered the puck to Elias in the slot, who beat Sparks cleanly over the glove. With just about 15 seconds left in what could be his final game in a Devils uniform; Patrik Elias netted his third point of the night and passed into legend. And that was it: 5-1 was the final score.
On a night that could only be described as magical, the Devils had played one of their best games of the season, gotten to a final record of 38-36-8 for 84 points. Although they did not have a whole lot to play for here, except for pride, they really came up big.
In the end, Kyle Palmieri was named third star of the game, finishing with a goal, an assist, six shots and a plus-2 rating on 19:15 of ice time. Adam Henrique was the second star with two goals, 4 shots, a plus-1 in 17:22 on the ice. And, of course, Patrik Elias was the first star on one goal, two assists, three shots, one hit, a plus-4 rating all in 14:27 time on ice.
Time will tell if this was Elias’ last game as a Devil. He may retire, he may sign on to play elsewhere or he may decide to resign with New Jersey for next season. All of that is to be decided, though. For now Patrik Elias had the night of a lifetime and made New Jersey Devils fans everywhere smile even in the midst of the finale of a season where they missed the playoffs.
That, my friends, is one hell of a feat.