Elias's 6 Points Not Enough to Steal Spotlight From Jagr
By KAREN CROUSE
Published: April 24, 2006
WEST ORANGE, N.J., April 23 — After the best individual performance of his N.H.L. career, Devils left wing Patrik Elias did perhaps the worst thing.
Patrik Elias had two goals and four assists in the Devils' victory against the Rangers, but his countryman Jaromir Jagr still got the attention.
He woke up Sunday and called up articles on the Internet from Czech correspondents who covered the Devils' 6-1 victory Saturday against the Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Elias had two goals and four assists, drawing a swarm of journalists to his locker, including three from the Czech Republic. They interviewed him for several minutes even though everybody knows that the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr is the biggest star in the Czech hockey constellation.
That is why just this once, Elias figured, it was safe to disregard instructions from the Devils assistant Jacques Laperriére not to read playoff reviews. He was mistaken. He should have known that his 6 points were not going to eclipse one punch.
In the Czech Republic, like in the United States, the articles focused on the apparent arm injury sustained by the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr when he lost the puck to the Devils' Scott Gomez and took a swipe at him. On the same shift, while Jagr was doubled over in pain, Elias scored his second power-play goal and sixth point. It figured that even as he capped a career game, Elias found himself sharing the spotlight with Jagr.
"It's O.K.," Elias said Sunday afternoon at the Devils' practice rink. "I know what I'm doing, what I've accomplished so far."
The 30-year-old Elias said he did not feel as if he were skating in Jagr's shadow. "I don't compare myself to him," he said. "I'm just me."
Elias's low profile makes him perfectly suited for the Devils, who operate as if they are in some kind of star protection program. They have won 12 consecutive games and are starting to look like their old Stanley Cup-contending selves, yet all anybody seems to want to talk about is the Rangers, who have lost six in a row.
Elias, a nine-year veteran, is the leading playoff scorer in Devils history, with 84 points in 103 games. His performance Saturday had special significance for him, and not just because it was the second-best point total in a playoff game in team history, after Patrik Sundstrom's 8 points against Washington in 1988.
In 2005, Elias dealt with hardship: the N.H.L. lockout; the dissolution of a 10-year relationship with a woman he had known since kindergarten; and a bout with hepatitis A.
Elias does not know how he contracted the illness, only that it came close to killing him. In March, he was playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Russian League when he came down with flulike symptoms.
"I felt really terrible," Elias said, "and I remember Russian team officials saying the playoffs start in 10 days and we need you to be there."
Elias insisted on being transferred to a hospital in Prague instead. He was transported by medical helicopter, and his doctors told him he came under their care just in time.
He spent 37 days in the hospital. He lost 30 pounds but gained a soul mate. Petra Volakova, a TV personality whom Elias had only recently met, visited him every day, and in the course of his convalescence their friendship blossomed into something deeper.
Elias returned to his home in New Jersey in May and has maintained a relationship with Volakova, who continues to work in the Czech Republic.
His next-door neighbor Ron Kurzweil said he barely recognized him. "He had lost a lot of weight, and his complexion was yellow," he said.
Slowly, Elias regained his appetite and his strength. He was cleared to return to the Devils in January and collected 16 points in his first 12 games.
Against the Rangers on Saturday, he looked better than ever. Elias played like someone without a care. These days his most pressing concern may be blowing his cover as one of the most underrated players in the N.H.L.
I'm glad Petr told him to get the fuck out of Magnitogorsk, otherwise there might not be a Patty today. :(
SYKORA'S 'A' GAME
RANGER'S READY FOR FORMER MATES
By LARRY BROOKS
April 21, 2006 -- It streaked across the skies of 2000 and 2001 like a comet, did the Devils' "A Line" of Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora that was as perfect a union of size, speed, creativity and defensive responsibility as any NHL combination over the last quarter-century.
But the comet burned out in a hurry after leading the Devils to the 2000 Stanley Cup and the 2001 Finals they never should have lost but did in seven games to the Avalanche. Soon center Arnott was gone to Dallas and right wing Sykora was gone to Anaheim and only left wing Elias remained in Lou Lamoriello's clubhouse.
"I thought it was going to last for a long, long time," Sykora, who registered 19 goals and 39 points in 48 playoff games for the Devils in those two tournaments, said yesterday. "I truly believe that if we would have stayed together we would have been even better than were for that short time; maybe we should still be together, I don't know.
"But I don't look back. All I care about is helping the Rangers beat the Devils in this series and win the Stanley Cup."
Sykora, rescued this January by Glen Sather when the Rangers GM acquired him from the Mighty Ducks, has to be a significant contributor if the Blueshirts are going to beat the Devils in the first-round playoff series that commences tomorrow afternoon at the Meadowlands. The Rangers need him to be what he was in New Jersey: a big-time, big-game goal-scorer.
"I've always liked the challenge of playing big games," said Sykora, who has 59 points (26-33) in 84 playoff games, second among Rangers to Jaromir Jagr (67-87-154 in 146 games). "The higher stakes make me a better player."
Sykora recorded 16 goals and 31 points in 40 games for the Rangers, but had one goal and one assist in the final 10 games. That immediately followed an eight-game stretch in which he scored seven goals with three assists.
"The end wasn't good, but I'm confident," said Sykora, who has been bothered by a sore groin much of the year. "I know how to prepare for playoff games."
Sykora is a sniper who can score from 30 feet. The Rangers need him to bring pace to the game and move his feet to jump into holes and win loose pucks.
"Petr is going to have to provide scoring, or at the very least has to get the puck to the net," Tom Renney said. "Petr is an opportunist who can pull the trigger."
Sykora said he does not know exactly why Lamoriello pulled the trigger on the July 6, 2002 deal that sent him to Anaheim for Jeff Friesen. It is believed the GM (and now head coach) began conceiving a trade when a foot injury kept Sykora out of the first and fifth games of the 2002 six-game first-round playoff loss to Carolina.
"Only Lou knows, but I have never missed a playoff game that I could have played," Sykora said. "I take pride in playing. I would never miss a playoff game."
Sykora faced the Devils with Anaheim in the 2003 Finals. Tomorrow, he does it again, playing against Elias, the lone remaining survivor of the "A Line."
"Yes, but do you know what? The three of us are all unrestricted [free agents] this summer," Sykora said. "So you never know."
This just gets to me. I loved that line when I was casually watching the 2001 playoffs, and I only found out more about the individuals after it had been broken up because I didn't follow the 01-02 regular season at all. I think that makes me love it even more, because I didn't get to enjoy them on more than a hockey level when they were together.
The thing with Petr is that he totally is a big game guy - two OT goals the last time he was in the playoffs - but he's just not the kind of guy who can carry the team and change a game all by himself. He's like a very effective supporting player under the right circumstances. When he attempts to take over, usually they lose. :P
But the idea of them all playing together again... *cries*