Patrik Elias said he felt much calmer in his 1,000th NHL game than in his first 16 years ago.
And while the nerves have tapered off, his production has not.
The 35-year-old veteran reached the milestone achievement during the Devils 5-2 win over the Panthers and finished the game with a goal and two assists.
“I was pretty excited, obviously, to play this game,” Elias said. “This was a special night for me and I’m glad we got a win. We needed it.”
Elias one-timed a pass from Henrik Tallinder to give the Devils a 2-1 lead in the second – his 14th of the season and No. 349 in his career – but more importantly set up the game-winner.
Elias dished off to Ilya Kovalchuk, who converted on the rush for the go-ahead goal at 11:40 of the third. He then picked up his second helper of the night on captain Zach Parise’s empty-netter with less than a minute remaining.
“In typical Elias fashion he played a great game on a big night,” said coach Pete DeBoer, who was happy to see his team bounce back after a humiliating 6-1 loss to Boston Wednesday.
Elias received a standing ovation in the first period from the 15,793 in attendance at Prudential Center – a sincere thank you from fans who have seen him flourish throughout his 16-year career with the Devils.
Since playing his first game during the 1995-96 season, Elias went on to win two Stanley Cup Championships with the Devils and set the all-time franchise scoring record. With his three-point effort Friday, Elias has 349 goals and 504 assists for 853 points.
He became the 271st player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-game benchmark and only the third in franchise history to do it while solely playing for the Devils.
“He’s an all-time Devil,” said Kovalchuk, who tallied twice in the team’s win including a shorthanded empty-netter. “He deserves everything he’s got.”
Call-up Steve Zalewski, who made his Devils debut for the injured Travis Zajac Friday, said the achievement put things in perspective for him, “sitting here at Number Four.”
DeBoer was similarly impressed.
“I’m amazed at guys with that type of longevity,” DeBoer said. “Not just the longevity, but also the level he plays at.”