His linemates were sent packing unceremoniously, derailing the high-scoring “A” line that the New Jersey Devils rode to the Stanley Cup championship only three years ago.
His new coach sat him down.
Still, Czech winger Patrik Elias led the Devils in scoring for the fourth consecutive season and topped the club with 28 goals.
And although he has struggled to produce in the playoffs, Elias was in the right place at the right time with 15:18 to play in the second period Thursday night. His third goal of the playoffs sent the Devils on their way to a 3-0 victory over the Mighty Ducks and a two-games-to-none lead in the Stanley Cup finals.
“You’re as good as your last game,” Coach Pat Burns said, “and in the Stanley Cup finals you can go a long way with one game.”
The prickly Burns, in his first season with the Devils, has not been easy on Elias, who was forced to adapt this season after the Devils traded Jason Arnott to the Dallas Stars last season and Petr Sykora to the Ducks last summer.
Arnott and Sykora not only were productive linemates.
They also were close friends.
“It’s too bad that they had to go,” Elias said. “I had to experience not playing with them, and it took me a while to adjust my game.”
Burns was not always patient.
He put Elias in his doghouse, leaving him on the bench for extended periods when he believed the Devils’ best forward was not performing at a high level.
“I’m not here to make friends,” Burns told the Newark Star-Ledger on the eve of the playoffs. “I’m about as bouncy as a hunk of clay. That’s the way I do things. My job is to get the best out of hockey players.
“Whether they like me or not, that has no fizz on my mind at all. What’s important to me is the progress of the team and the outcome.”
And that was after Elias, 27, had scored 11 goals and assisted on five others over the last 17 games of the regular season, helping the Devils hold off the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Atlantic Division championship.
He has nine points in 19 playoff games, among them an assist on a goal by Scott Gomez later in the second period Thursday.
It’s far less than is expected of Elias, who had a career-high 96 points two seasons ago, but the Devils are only two victories short of their third Stanley Cup in nine seasons. And Elias, who has three points in the finals, grows more comfortable each game with Gomez and Grant Marshall, his new linemates.
Each had a hand in his goal, which was scored on the power play with his old friend Sykora in the penalty box for holding. Gomez dug the puck out of the corner and sent it out front to defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky.
With Marshall tangled up in front with Duck defenseman Kurt Sauer, Tverdovsky ripped a shot from the right point that kicked off Sauer’s skate and to Elias at the right post. Elias gathered the puck and stuffed it into the net past Jean-Sebastien Giguere for a 1-0 lead.
“A lucky bounce,” Elias said.
And not unwelcome.
“I’m trying to do my best out there and the puck’s not going in,” Elias said. “What can you do? You’ve got to keep working hard. But it makes it a lot easier that everybody else is scoring and we’re winning.
“The first two rounds I don’t think I played as good as I’m playing now, but I feel good that I’m getting better as we’re going toward the end.”
The Elias Bureau
A look at Patrik Elias’ playoff statistics: