As Patrik Elias began his final stretch of what could be his final games as a New Jersey Devil, he did so regretting only that he could not play with the current group more than he did.
The 39-year-old winger, who turns 40 in the middle of this month, played in his first game since December 19, when he injured his knee. It has been 108 days since he last suited up, but he was itching to go. He is the last link to the Devils’ Stanley Cup teams of the early-2000’s, having won the Cup with the team in 2000 and 2003. He is also as selfless as ever, he did not want to be back in the lineup if it was at the expense of the team. But due to New Jersey being eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday, he felt it was a good time. He skated on a line with Jacob Josefson and Mike Sislo.
Elias would return to a game that was lackluster to say the least. Two teams who are eliminated from playoff contention playing out the string can be a little hard to watch at times. The Sabres came away with the 3-1 win in a game that saw just 37 shots on goal total from both teams.
Some other lineup moves for the Devils (besides Elias’ return) saw Joseph Blandisi as a healthy scratch, missing his first game since making his NHL debut back in December against Detroit. In addition, Seth Helgeson was sent back to the Albany Devils to assist them in their quest for the Calder Cup and Jon Merrill was shut down for the season (shoulder injury).
Another watch going on during the game was whether the Washington Capitals’ Braden Holtby could equal Martin Brodeur’s single season wins record tonight with a game against the New York Islanders. He could not, as the Islanders won the game in overtime and, in turn, clinched a playoff spot for themselves. Holtby will next be able to equal the record in St. Louis of all places with Marty possibly in the building.
The goaltending matchup saw Cory Schneider making his second start back from injury. Cory made 15 saves on 17 shots faced. Getting the start in the Sabres’ crease was Chad Johnson, who made 18 saves on just 19 shots fired by the Devils.
The first period ending scoreless, the first goal of the game was setup when Kyle Palmieri was called for hooking at 12:51 of the second and the Sabres went on the power play. They would capitalize at 14:12 when Ryan O’Reilly scored from Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen. Buffalo was up 1-0.
The goal was not for Cory’s lack of play. He made a big save in the middle of the second on Zemgus Girgensons which led to Elias having a scoring chance soon after. Patty just could not get a handle on the puck to get the shot off right. Ken Daneyko of MSG+ said that this could have just been a little bit of rust from not playing for so long.
Right after the Buffalo goal in the second period, Blake Pietila went off for high-sticking. Just prior to the power play, a damaged pane of glass had to be changed out in the corner of the rink at the Sabres’ end. This would give the teams a breather, and Buffalo would not be able to score on the man advantage. Although Adam Henrique would get a nice try shorthanded. He was denied, however.
Shorthanded tries were a common thread for New Jersey, as after Travis Zajac went off for slashing in mid-third, Kyle Palmieri would have a nice chance. Unfortunately, they were not able to convert on any of these nice chances.
The Sabres doubled up their lead just 12 seconds into the third period when Johan Larsson scored his tenth of the season unassisted. Just like that, the Devils had fallen behind by two.
In the middle of the third, at 14:20, David Legwand of Buffalo was called for interference on Vojtech Mozik and the Devils were on the power play. With the extra man, Jacob Josefson was able to hammer home his fourth of the year from Tyler Kennedy and Palmieri. New Jersey had cut the Buffalo lead in half. For Josefson, it was his first goal since a February game at Toronto before his injury. In this penalty filled game, the Sabres would go 1-for-4 with the man advantage while the Devils were 1-for-6.
The Devils seemed within striking distance and pulled Schneider with about a minute or a minute and a half left in the game in an attempt to tie things up. Unfortunately, Eichel would convert a neutral zone turnover into an empty net goal by not giving up on the play after the Devils blocked a few of his shots. After he had finally buried his 24th of the year, unassisted, the Sabres had their 3-1 lead and the Devils had lost their third straight.
Next up for the Devils is a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday at Prudential Center and a chance to play spoiler in the Atlantic Division championship race. The Devils will try to notch a win for the fans and for themselves in this game, in what could be Patrik Elias’ penultimate contest with the Devils.