NEWARK, N.J. — Patrik Elias wanted to get a win in the Devils’ home finale.
Elias had two assists in New Jersey’s 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
Elias, 37, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, so it could have been his last home game for the only team he’s played for in his 15-year career.
“I think they (the Devils’ management) are already making decisions for next year,” Elias said after his team erased a two-goal deficit to go over the .500 mark (19-18-10) for the season and 13-9-2 at home.
“They have their right to take their time in making the decision. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It was great to get a win for the home crowd. We have great fans. I wish we were going back to the playoffs again. We’re not and that’s the way it goes.”
The Devils, the defending Eastern Conference champions, were eliminated from playoff contention for only the third time in the past 20 years.
“We weren’t giving up,” Elias said. “The fight was not over.”
Ilya Kovalchuk scored his first goal since suffering a shoulder injury last month, breaking a 2-2 tie with 6:10 remaining in regulation, giving the Devils the victory.
Kovalchuk took a nice pass from Steve Sullivan and shot it toward the net. On the play, the puck seemed to deflect off Pittsburgh center Brandon Sutter, but Kovalchuk was credited with his 11th goal of the season, past Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
It was Kovalchuk’s first goal since March 13. It was Kovalchuk’s shoulder injury March 23 that sent the Devils reeling, losing 10 straight games and falling out of the playoff race.
“I knew I didn’t score for a long time, like more than a month ago,” Kovalchuk said. “We were desperate to get a win and worked really hard to get it.”
After Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead, the Devils got goals from Travis Zajac and David Clarkson to tie the game, setting up Kovalchuk’s winner.
Johan Hedberg made 15 saves in his first start since March 19 for his sixth win of the season.
“It was nice for me and the whole team to get a win,” Hedberg said. “We were able to give our fans something to cheer about. We’re disappointed we’re not going to the playoffs, but we wanted to finish as strong as possible. It’s about as good of a feeling we can ask for, especially coming back from 2-0 down.”
Fleury had 29 saves for the Penguins.
Penguins star Sidney Crosby missed his 10th straight game with a broken jaw, but he was cleared by medical personnel to return to hockey-related activity. Crosby has played in 36 games and has 56 points.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was not happy with the effort of his team, which last week clinched the top seed in the East Conference.
“We would have liked to be able to make importance of the game, but that’s not the case,” Bylsma said. “I don’t like giving up the lead the way we did. I don’t like giving up a power-play goal late.
“Those are situations we’ve been good at all year. We certainly want to play well the last few games, and we’re looking to play well, but that didn’t happen.”
The Penguins had already wrapped up the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and are awaiting their first round opponent.
“It’s not unlike every other year, not knowing who you’re playing,” Bylsma said. “It’s one of three teams. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. We’ve already begun preparations to play any of the three.”
Matt Cooke scored a goal in the first period and Jussi Jokinen added one in the second period for the Penguins.
NOTES: Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas made his NHL debut and the 21-year-old rookie was given the start by coach Peter DeBoer. Gelinas, the team’s second-round draft pick in 2009, suffered a broken jaw when he was hit with a puck in the mouth while playing for Albany of the AHL in October. He was recalled by the team to replace injured defenseman Bryce Salvador, who missed the last two weeks of the season due to an injured wrist. ... Hedberg started in net for the first time since March 19 against the Rangers.