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Elias hopes to return Tuesday against Buffalo

by Mike G. Morreale / New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils left wing Patrik Elias could play against the Buffalo Sabres at Prudential Center on Tuesday.

Elias, who has been out since Dec. 19 with a right knee injury, skated on a line with Jacob Josefson and Mike Sislo during practice Monday.

"[The knee is] fine; it's not going to make a difference for me if I have one or two more practices," Elias said. "It's a decision that needs to be made by the coaching staff and myself. I'm ready to play but we'll make a decision [Tuesday]."

Coach John Hynes said if Elias does not play Tuesday, he could return to the lineup Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Elias, 39, was a second-round pick (No. 51) by the Devils in the 1994 NHL Draft and has spent his entire 17-season NHL career with them. He's the Devils' regular-season leader in goals (407), assists (615) and points (1,022); he's the only player to score at least 1,000 points with the Devils.

But he is in the final season of a three-year contract he signed July 4, 2013. He can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. There's a chance he could be playing his final games with the Devils.

"I realize this could be it, no question about it, but I'm not going into the game thinking that," Elias said. "Nobody knows what the future holds. I was lucky enough to play until 39 with a couple injuries that kept me out of the lineup for a long time. I was almost pain-free. A lot of guys go through injuries and have to end their career earlier."

Hynes said the decision on whether or not Elias plays will not be based solely on the fact this could be the last chance for Devils fans to see him in a home uniform.

"He'll be in the lineup if we think he can help us," Hynes said. "If he's going to put the jersey on and play he's going to be able to help us win the hockey game and that's the most important thing. But also, I think it's important to honor the past and he's a huge part of that. He's our all-time leading scorer, a Stanley Cup winner, and that's all special.

"Thankfully his body allowed him to get back for this last week; he's worked his butt off for it."

Elias has one goal and four assists in 13 games this season. He missed the first 20 games after hurting his knee in training camp. Elias returned to the lineup Nov. 25 but has missed the past 46 games. He had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus and clean loose cartilage in his right knee Jan. 12.

Elias needs to play 46 games to tie defenseman Ken Daneyko for the most in Devils history with 1,283. He can tie goaltender Martin Brodeur (1,259) for second if he plays 22 more games.

"When I think about Patrik Elias I think longevity and how long he's played here and how great a player he is," Devils captain Andy Greene said. "He's kind of played in two different eras, before the first work stoppage [2004-05], and then he came back and still was very successful. He's found ways to contribute to the game both offensively and defensively in the 1990s and 2000s.

"No one knows what will happen after this season. But for what he's meant to this team and organization, I think the fans would really appreciate watching him one more time just in case."

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