Patrik Elias played just one game during the 1995-96 season. It was his first in the NHL and came on Dec. 7, long before the Devils missed the playoffs in the spring of '96.

So when the Devils play the final few games this season knowing they will not be going to the playoffs, it will really be the first time for the franchise's all-time scoring leader.

"It's strange. This whole season is strange," Elias said today. "We still have to take a lot of positives out of the situation. All the young guys and everyone who battled back and put us in position to have a chance even with seven games left. We have to be proud of that.

"The goal is to win Wednesday. Get ourselves ready and win a hockey game. It's a lot more fun when you win. Maybe we were a little flat the last few games. We ran out of steam for whatever reason. I think that in those last 35 games we worked extremely hard to put us in that position and sometimes that happens. Still, I think these last seven games mean a lot to us. Pride."

It will take a total of three points won by the Buffalo Sabres or lost by the Devils for elimination. That's because if the Devils won their final seven and got in, they would likely win a tie-breaker with the Sabres for non-shootout victories.

The climb back into contention was long and difficult. The end, however, came suddenly with five losses in their last six games (1-4-1).