Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur is congratulated by teammate Patrik Elias after defeating the Kings in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif., June 6, 2012. (LUCY NICHOLSON/Reuters)
NEWARK - The best player nobody talks about is sitting at his locker in the early afternoon barely garnering any attention from the mob of cameras and microphones assigned to chronicle the Stanley Cup final.
Patrik Elias doesn't mind flying under the radar. It has been the story of his hockey life and, in some ways, the unfortunate story of this playoff season for him. One of the best scorers of this NHL season with 78 points -- two points more than Anze Kopitar, four fewer than Phil Kessel -- Elias hasn't scored much in these Stanley Cup playoffs.
But when the New Jersey Devils needed to take their first lead in the Cup final in Game 4, needed to finally find a way to beat Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, it was their 36-year-old leader who somehow got it done.
"I have a way of remaining calm," said the former captain of the Devils, who most people wouldn't know is the former captain of the Devils. He played left wing in Game 1 and 2 of the final. He moved to centre for Game 3. Few forwards make that transition so comfortably.
"I'm used to it," he said.
Elias has been around for 15 seasons, has played wherever they have asked him, has been annually one of New Jersey's best players and has never quite received the recognition a career of his quality deserves.
"Imagine this guy if he played in Toronto, in a centre like that," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "For me, he's a Hall of Fame player. He does it all. He's a coach in the dressing room. He knows how to win. He knows how to find another level at key times.
"He had some struggles early in the playoffs, but you can see, I think, he has been our most consistent guy here though the final at a key time. There's a reason he has multiple Stanley Cups. You know, he has had the success at this time of the year."
The Devils remain on the ropes, barely hanging on in this uneven Stanley Cup final. Elias knows how fragile this all can be.
"I've waited nine years to get back here," he said. He has won the Cup. Seventeen of his teammates have not. The Devils can't afford another defeat.
"It's not one game," Elias said, talking about what the Devils need to come back from being down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. "It's five minutes. We have to get through five minutes. Then we have to get through another five minutes. You have to go like that. You can't worry about the outcome. You have to break the game down into little parts and focus on those few minutes.
"Yeah, we're excited to come back here and excited we're still playing hockey. We have another chance at it. That's all. Nobody thinks we're back in it. Nobody thinks we're fine now. There are another 60 minutes or more to play and hopefully we can say the same thing after Saturday's game. There's no point in talking about (comebacks) now. It's a long way away. It's only five days in hockey terms, that's all, but it can be a lot or just a little."
He's not ready to squander this opportunity, maybe the last one he'll ever get. Elias is in the sixth year of a seven-year $42-million contract that runs out next year and has brought decent value to his team. The Devils won their first Stanley Cup (1995) just before Elias arrived on the scene. They have won two Cups since (2000, 2003). Odds are this is his last real shot to win again.
"I tell the guys, you have to take advantage of this chance. It's one message you try to give to the young guys," Elias said. "I don't know when there will be another chance."
The way this Cup final has gone, Elias figures there is reason for both teams to believe victory is attainable and that opportunities already have been squandered.
"You ask (the Kings), they probably think they should have won the last game," he said. "And we're thinking, we should have won one of the first two games. Three of the four games could have gone either way. And that's something for us to be positive about."