It was only fitting that Patrik Elias marked the occasion by lighting the lamp.
The Devils' all-time leader in goals, assists and points, Elias embraced the spotlight of his 1,000th NHL game by potting a goal and two assists in Friday's 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers. He brought the crowd of more than 15,000 to their feet, something he's done so many times since debuting with New Jersey in 1995.
Even with all those games under his belt, he continues to shine as one of the club's top forwards.
"I was pretty excited, obviously, to play this game," Elias said. "Even if it's your first NHL game, the adrenaline and the excitement is the same as if you have 16 years behind you. This was a special night for me and I'm glad it worked out and I'm glad, obviously, that we got a win. We needed it."
Elias was recognized on the scoreboard during a break in the first period, then came out and notched his 14th of the season, 349th of his career, 36 seconds into the second. He took a rolling pass from Henrik Tallinder and got a knuckling shot past Jacob Markstrom from the high slot to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.
Elias then set up Ilya Kovalchuk's go-ahead goal that broke a 2-2 tie with 8:20 left in regulation.
"They were changing, we were changing a little bit, just came right out from behind our net," he said. "A couple of good breakout passes to pick up speed wide. Kovy just drove straight through the middle to the front of the net. Sometimes that's how we have to get the goals. I got the pass to him, but he still made a nice shot."
Adam Henrique notched his 11th of the season. Kovalchuk scored his second of the night – a shorthanded tally – into the empty net with 59.3 seconds remaining. Zach Parise added an empty-netter of his own with 39.7 seconds to go.
"It was a great night for Patrik," coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's a great pro and in typical Elias fashion, he played a great game on a big night. That was nice to see. Obviously the win was big. That's a four-point game, they're ahead of us in the standings. We showed some composure tonight. That's a team that finds a way to hang around like they did against the Rangers [Thursday]. Our best period was our third, which was important."
Elias joins Ken Daneyko (1,283) and Martin Brodeur (1,156) as the only players with 1,000 appearances as Devils. He's the 271st player in League history to do it, 10th while playing for New Jersey.
So how's that feel?
"A little more calm than 16 years ago when I played my first one," Elias said. "It's 15, 16 years, still nice to have Petr [Sykora] here at this special moment. We're having fun out there. We needed to bounce back and take advantage of that team and I'm glad we did that. We have another tough game coming."
The Devils (22-16-2) snapped a two-game skid and visit Pittsburgh on Saturday.
"It's a big test for us," Kovalchuk said.
Johan Hedberg finished with 22 saves in his first start since Dec. 26 at Carolina. Parise was called for delay of game after putting the puck over the glass with 2:52 left, and the PK had to come up big.
"In the third period, we came out and lifted our game," Hedberg said. "They made a push there, too, and we stood strong and killed off a big penalty."
It helped ensure Elias' milestone would be even sweeter.
"You still remember even if you lose, but I'll take the way we won tonight and move on," Elias said. "Hopefully, I have a few more years in me and keep enjoying it and hopefully the fans will enjoy watching."
Henrique opened the scoring 3:53 into the game. He shoveled an offensive zone draw toward the corner and went to the front of the net while Parise dug out the loose puck. Parise found Henrique alone for quick shot that Markstrom stopped before Henrique roofed the rebound on his backhand.
Henrique, who entered the night tied for third in goals by a rookie, is second to injured Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in rookie points. He stayed in the game after taking a hard shot by Kurtis Foster off the inside of his right foot.
Later, Henrique flattened Mikael Samuelsson with an open-ice hit, but not before Samuelsson got off a shot from the right circle that tied the game, 1-1, at 7:33.
After Elias had put the Devils back on top, Krys Barch evened the count. Brian Campbell eluded a hit by Eric Boulton in his own zone and turned the play up ice for what became a 4-on-2 Panthers rush. Ex-Devil John Madden drove to the net, and Michal Repik passed to Barch for a wrister – and the equalizer – at 2:46.
The Devils were fortunate to escape the second period tied at 2. Hedberg found himself down and out with the Panthers buzzing, but Kris Versteeg missed a wide open net with a shot off the crossbar with 6:25 to go.
• Neal Broten, Scott Stevens, Dave Andreychuk, Bob Carpenter, Claude Lemieux, Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus (Nov. 16) are the other players to reach 1,000 games while with the Devils.
• Travis Zajac (soreness) missed his second straight game. Anton Volchenkov (lower body) missed his third. Neither will travel with the team to Pittsburgh.
• Steve Zalewski made his Devils debut after being recalled from Albany (AHL) on Wednesday.
1 - 0 NJD
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NJD
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 NJD
SHG - EN -
4 - 2 NJD
5 - 2 NJD