Elias picked up goals No. 17, 18 and 19, including his first shorthanded tally of the season. GETTY IMAGES
Patrik Elias seems to save his best for the Philadelphia Flyers. On Friday, his deft scoring touch against the Devils’ division rivals kept playoff hope alive in the Garden State.
Elias notched his eighth career hat trick, propelling the Devils to a 4-2 triumph over the Eastern Conference leaders at Prudential Center. He scored twice in the second, including the shorthanded goal that put New Jersey ahead for the first time, 2-1.
Brian Rolston got the primary assist on all three tallies as Elias improved to 19 goals with his first hat trick since April 5, 2006.
"Mathematically we're still in, so we're just playing," Elias said after the Devils won for the second time while facing elimination from the playoff chase. "We'll try to play well, try to work hard, have fun doing it, we'll see where we're at in five games."
Jacques Lemaire talked this week about competing hard to the end of the season, and his Devils (36-36-5) aren’t going quietly. They improved to 77 points and moved within 10 of the eighth-place Rangers with five games remaining.
Mathematically we're still in, so we're just playing. We'll try to play well, try to work hard, have fun doing it, we'll see where we're at in five games.- Patrik Elias
"They battled because [Philadelphia] is not a team that is easy to play against," Lemaire said. "They come, they never stop, they keep coming."
A loss of any kind or one point gained by both the Rangers and Sabres would end the Devils’ quest.
"Our goal is to win all the games, just to play well and enjoy the five games now that we have left," Elias said. "We don't look beyond that, to be honest. We just play."
Nick Palmieri’s eighth broke a 2-2 tie at 8:55 of the third period. Ilya Kovalchuk’s pass off of Palmieri’s left skate put the Devils back ahead after Jeff Carter had knotted the game, 2-2, at 4:18 of the third.
"We're playing until the final game," Palmieri said. "Regardless of the standings, we still have a job to do. There's still people paying to come watch us play, and they want to see us win, so we owe it to ourselves and to our fans to do our best out there."
Hedberg made 34 saves to improve to 14-11-2.
Elias capped his memorable night when a Rolston rebound went off his right skate and over the line for his third goal with 2:46 to go.
At first, few fans tossed hats because it wasn’t immediately clear that Elias had gotten the goal. After a video review, the caps rained onto the ice from the sold-out crowd of 17,625.
“I felt it when [the rebound] hit me, but I didn’t know where it went right away,” Elias said. “But I felt it.”
Elias led the Devils this season with six goals and two assists in five games against the Flyers. He added to his all-time series-leading point total and now has 32 goals and 38 assists in 70 career meetings with Philadelphia.
Johan Hedberg, who started all six games versus the Flyers, showed no signs of rust in his first appearance since Feb. 25. He posted 34 saves to collect his third win of the season series.
The Devils were outshot 36-24, including 14-8 in the first and 13-6 in the third. Hedberg produced one of his best stops early in the third, making a strong right pad save on Danny Briere off a Flyers' odd-man rush.
"They probably knew I hadn't played in a while, so they tried to throw some bouncers and pucks from different angles at me and hopefully catch me rusty," said Hedberg.
By the second period, Hedberg had found his groove. He hopes the Devils can stay on theirs for the final five games.
"We have no choice, we have no other intentions either," he said. "But I don't think we're even going to mention the word [playoffs]. You want to come out, you want to compete every night. You want to play as a very proud bunch of hockey players. We'll see when Game 82 is played what the summary is of everything."
James van Riemsdyk opened the scoring in the first, redirecting a Mike Richards pass to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 10:50.
Richards poked the puck away from Anssi Salmela at the left point, then raced up ice while guarded by Kovalchuk. He threaded a pass under Kovalchuk’s stick to the breaking van Riemsdyk for the deflection.
Known for his booming shot, Rolston showcased his playmaking skills in the second. He found Elias between the circles for the one-timer that beat Brian Boucher to tie the game, 1-1, at 6:28. Then, on a shorthanded 2-on-1, Rolston thought shot from the right circle before finding a breaking Elias to put the Devils ahead at 8:20.
"Today on the first two goals, Rollie made great plays on both of them," Elias said. "I thought that on the third one there was a little bit of luck, no question about it. We had about six, seven odd-man rushes tonight, so we did a good job defensively to create those chances. Tonight it went in, that's all that makes the difference."
Rolston snapped a six-game points drought to help the Devils stay on track.
"As far as I'm concerned, I feel like we're one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference," Rolston said. "Having said that, we're not in the playoffs, so you're not one of the top teams. It's just unfortunate that in the first half we didn't play well, and we're playing almost the complete opposite in the second half. It's bittersweet, these wins. Everyone is contributing, it's a real team effort and you see Moose coming in tonight, playing as well as he did. Everybody's contributing; it's a good team feeling in here."
Montreal visits Prudential Center on Saturday. Zach Parise is expected to return to the lineup after missing 65 games with a knee injury. … The Devils avoided having their fate sealed by Philadelphia on home ice for the second straight season. Last year, the Flyers clinched their first-round series with a Game 5 win in Newark.
Elias on facing the Flyers:
"They're tough games to play but I like playing those games against those guys. It looked from the middle of the game on, especially in the second period, it looked like they were a little bit tired. In the third, they came back in the first five minutes, Heddy was awesome. He made a couple of big saves throughout the game. I think that the win maybe overshadowed how many good saves he made today."
James van Riemsdyk
1 - 0 PHI
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NJD
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 NJD