In Patrik Elias' hockey career, few people are likely to know him quite as well as Petr Sykora. The two were born seven months apart in what was then Czechoslovakia, and both first appeared in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils in 1995-96.
As a result, the two have long been known to be fast friends off the ice and have had impressive chemistry on it. In the Devils' 2000 Stanley Cup run, Elias and Sykora teamed with Jason Arnott to form the team's top line, and even though Sykora was watching in the hospital after an earlier hit in Game 6 when Elias fed Arnott for the Cup clincher, it was evident the line's chemistry was still there. A year later, Elias and Sykora memorably assisted on each other's goals while leading the Devils to a comeback win in Game 4 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Final. It goes without saying that New Jersey wouldn't have gotten a sniff of Lord Stanley without the relationship the two Czech wingers displayed both on and off the ice.
While Elias has stayed in New Jersey his entire career, Sykora eventually left the team for stints with Anaheim, the Rangers, Edmonton, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. After spending last season playing in Europe, Sykora came back to the Devils this season on a training camp tryout, and after making the roster, the pair -- reunited after last playing together for New Jersey nine years ago -- seem to be picking up right where they left off.
While Elias, in his 14th full season, is leading the team in scoring, Sykora, too, is posting solid numbers with 8 goals and 10 assists through 32 games. The threads of their on-ice chemistry run deep, and at no time has that been more on display this season than this past Saturday night, when Elias scored two goals to tie and then break the Devils' all-time goal-scoring mark.
"We all know he's a special player," Sykora told the Bergen Record's Tom Gulitti of Elias, whose record-breaking goal proved the difference in a 5-3 win against the Canadiens. "It's good that it kind of happened on the game-winning goal, a game in Montreal and we made the play as a line."
On that very goal, Elias' own scoring prowess wasn't the only thing visible. Elias and Sykora's 15-year sympatico, as well as Sykora's acknowledgement of the record were also. After picking up the puck on a turnover forced by Dainius Zubrus, Sykora's first thought was to tap the puck up to Elias so he could face Montreal goalie Carey Price one-on-one. Elias, sensing a better angle for Sykora on the left side of the crease dished the puck across on his backhand, but Sykora, knowing Elias would have an easy tap-in for the record, sent it right back.
A split second later Sykora was in Elias' arms celebrating his longtime friend's ascendance to the top of New Jersey's all-time list.
In many ways, were it not for a certain person between the pipes, it's very conceivable to think Patrik Elias would be thought of as the greatest player in Devils history. In 993 games with the franchise, Elias has more goals (348), assists (497), points (845), power-play goals (96), game-winning goals (77), overtime goals (15) and hat tricks (8) than anyone else to ever play in New Jersey.
These are tremendous individual accomplishments to be sure, but Elias is a wise enough player to know that none of them would be possible without the players around him. While Sykora got the much-deserved primary assist on the score, it wouldn't have been possible without Zubrus' backcheck, something not lost on the man of the hour.
"He's the guy actually who forced [the turnover]," Elias told Gulitti Saturday. "He was hunting the puck down on that shift, and he made the turnover and we were in the right position."
As Elias approaches his 1,000th game in the NHL, all of them with the Devils franchise, he has left his mark -- or rather several of them -- on a team that ranks among the NHL's best in terms of championships and postseason appearances over the last two decades. But as his relationship with Sykora shows, while Elias may now stand at the top of the list in New Jersey, he'll never stand alone.