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Devils captain Patrik Elias sidelined for series opener against Ottawa

Patrik Elias will be sidelined for the first game of the second-round series on Thursday because of a lingering cold. He is expected to play in Game 2 on Saturday.

"He is much better," Devils coach Lou Lamoriello said after the Devils' pre-game skate. "The way he feels, he'll skate tomorrow and be ready for Saturday."

Elias, who had 21 goals and 48 assists this season, developed a cold over the weekend and missed practices Tuesday and Wednesday. The left-winger was at the Continental Airlines Arena before the skate, but he was not available for comment.

Scott Gomez, who centres the Devils' top line that includes Elias and Brian Gionta, said the situation has been tough on Elias, who signed a US$42-million, seven-year contract in the off-season and was later named the team's captain.

"We just need him to get better and tonight someone will get a great opportunity to be in the lineup," said Gomez.

The illness is not related to the hepatitis that sidelined Elias for the first half of last season, Lamoriello said. He would not say who would replace Elias.

Erik Rasmussen skated with Gomez and Gionta on Wednesday. David Clarkson is another option.

"I guess our club will be tested early in the series," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "A guy from maybe the fourth line will have to step into a role that is more dominant compared to what we had to do against Tampa. That's playoff hockey."

Rasmussen has spent most of the season on the Devils' third and fourth lines, which either function as the checking unit or the energy line. He has three goals and seven assists in 71 games but is one of the team's better skaters and knows how to fill a role.

"I am not going to go in and change the chemistry of the line, and be a crash-and-bang line," Rasmussen said. "(Gomez) likes to carry the puck and (Gionta) likes to get into scoring areas. It's the same thing, I am going to stay out of the way and make room for those guys."

The good news for the Devils is that they use a system and have players who are interchangeable. It's been of the reasons New Jersey has won three Stanley Cups since 1995 and made the playoffs for 10 straight years.

"The reason why we do it so well here is the whole concept of our game plan is to win the game," Rasmussen said. "It doesn't matter how it happens or what happens, or who does it."

Clarkson is a perfect example of that. He spent most of the season in the minor leagues. However, he scored three goals playing with Gomez and Gionta in March, when Elias was sidelined with a groin injury.

The Devils ran into a similar problem in eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. Defenceman Colin White was unable to play the final four games because of a back injury and veteran Richard Matvichuk stepped into the lineup and was outstanding.

White practised on Wednesday and skated Thursday morning. White said he will play, but Lamoriello said his status would be determined at game time.


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