A fever-free Patrik Elias skated during an optional workout for New Jersey on Friday and plans to be in the lineup Saturday night at the Continental Airlines Arena in what shapes up as a must-game for New Jersey.
The Devils’ captain missed the team’s 5-4 loss to Ottawa on Thursday night, sweating out the final symptoms of a flu bug that has drained him since last Saturday.
Devils coach Lou Lamoriello had said that Elias was fighting a lingering cold.
“I feel fine today,” Elias said after skating for about 35 minutes at the Codey Arena in West Orange, N.J. “Obviously I am a little tired after four days of not skating, but I feel good enough to play now.”
While it might seem odd for a hockey player to miss a playoff game because of either a cold or the flu, Elias is still feeling the effects of a case of hepatitis he contracted playing in Russia during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
Elias missed more than the first half of 2005-06 NHL season because of the illness. His immune system is still fighting to get back to normal, so he can have problems when he catches a bad cold, which happened this past weekend when the Devils travelled to Tampa, Fla., for Game 6 of their first-round series.
“It knocked me out pretty good,” Elias said. “I had fever aches, body aches. I have to be careful with that, so I stayed in bed for four days straight and tried to get my fever down so I could function.”
Elias watched Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal at home in his bed, admitting he did it in spurts since he doesn’t like to watch games on television.
It wasn’t much fun, especially after Ottawa capitalized on a couple of Devils mistakes and a few great shots to take a 4-0 lead in the opening 17 minutes.
“It’s difficult,” Elias said of sitting out. “Every game is so important. This is what you play the whole year for. You want to be in there to help the team, but at the same time you have to be smart enough not to be in there for one game and then miss three or four. I hope we made the right decision.”
Another loss at home would put the Devils in a 2-0 hole in the best-of-seven series. Only once have they rallied from that deficit to win a series, doing it in 1994 after losing the first two games at home against Boston.
Elias was impressed watching the Senators, but he took pride watching the Devils get within 4-3 early in the second period.
“We have to come out better tomorrow,” said Elias, who had 21 goals and 48 assists playing on the Devils’ top line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.
“Any time Patty is in the lineup, he’s the best guy on our team,” Gomez said. “He is our captain. As long as he’s healthy, that’s the most important thing. I think any team would love to have a Patrik Elias in the lineup.”
Neither team is expecting a repeat of Game 1, which looked like three games.
Ottawa dominated the opening 17 minutes. The Devils controlled the next 23. The third period was more like a playoff game.
“It was a weird game,” centre Jason Spezza said Friday after the Senators practised at Floyd Hall in Montclair, N.J. “We probably won’t seen another one like that.”
The coaching staffs of the Senators and Devils both spent a lot of time breaking down the first two periods and pointing out all the mistakes, and there were a lot.
One thing that may be on the Devils side in Game 2 is history.
In 15 previous playoff series in their franchise history, the Senators have never won the first two games. They have had seven chances, including one against Pittsburgh earlier this year, and not taken the 2-0 lead.
“I just hope we can win so we can stop talking about not winning the second game of a series,” Spezza said.
Ottawa defenceman Chris Phillips said the Senators can’t be satisfied having taken the home-ice advantage away from New Jersey.
“The playoffs are so tight, and the teams get tougher and better as you go along,” Phillips said. “We can’t afford to spot them anything.”