Sharks' Patrick Marleau defies laws of time, has Gordie Howe in sights

Brian Witt

SAN JOSE -- Early in the second period Saturday night, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns launched a slapshot from the point, just as the penalized Dallas Stars player was coming out of the box.

The powerful shot couldn't be contained by Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin, and the rebound eventually got poked over to his right side where a Sharks player was waiting to stuff it into the night.

Stuff it, he did, as Patrick Marleau scored one of the easier goals he has ever had in his 22-year NHL career. It wasn't a noteworthy goal, aside from the fact that in came in his 1,700th career game and it proved to be the game-winner.

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Okay, so maybe it was pretty noteworthy.

Simply by participating in Saturday's game at SAP Center, Marleau became the fifth player in NHL history to appear in 1,700 career games. Of the five players to accomplish the feat, he is the only one to score within the milestone game.

"That's unbelievable," Burns said of Marleau after San Jose's 2-1 win. "To do what he has done, it's incredible. A lot of hard work, luck ... I can't say enough about that guy. Off the ice, on the ice ... what he does, it's incredible."

From his first shift to his last, Marleau was flying around the ice. He admitted afterward that the occasion might have had something to do with it.

"It's one of those milestone games, so you've got a little extra energy, a little extra jump," he explained. "It's nice getting that one on the board tonight and helping the team offensively."

On a night when former captain Joe Pavelski was in the spotlight, Marleau managed to steal some of it from his long-time friend and ex-teammate. His goal put San Jose in front, and the Sharks seemed to build confidence from that point forward. Yes, his offensive contribution was a big help, but he showed he is still capable of contributing an all-around game.

"That's vintage Marleau tonight," Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said after the victory. "You see his skating at 40 years old. You can see he has that separation speed. I think that he battled hard on the boards -- he made some great plays on the wall -- scores a goal, so real happy for him. 

"It was a good night. You could tell the building had a lot of energy. It was a great ceremony for [Pavelski], and I thought that Patty got his fair due. So it was a good night all around."

[RELATED: Watch Pavelski get standing ovation before Sharks-Stars]

While Marleau provided the game-winning goal, San Jose netminder Aaron Dell came through with multiple game-saving stops in the final minutes to secure the much-needed win. Even from the opposite side of the ice, he can't help but notice how Marleau continues to defy the laws of time.

"He's still the same player he always was," Dell said. "I don't think he has lost a step at all. It's amazing that he can still play at this age. I remember watching him as a kid and stuff like that, so it's pretty cool to be playing alongside him and [Joe Thornton]. It's quite a feat, really, to be even close to what they are."

Between Marleau and Thornton, they have 44 combined NHL seasons and 3,313 games between them. The 40-year-olds are each one of 14 players in league history to appear in four different decades, and while they no longer are the prolific superstars they were in their primes, you don't have to look further than San Jose's back-to-back wins to observe they still have plenty left in the tank. Just like Marleau's tally against the Stars, Thornton's goal Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets proved to be the game-winner.

"Every day you watch those two guys, you sort of shake your head," Boughner said with a laugh. "It's just how they do it. And it's nice to have them on your side, for sure."

Marleau wasn't on the Sharks' side as recently as the summer, but a combination of circumstances opened the door for his return to the franchise, which has been a feel-good storyline in a season that hasn't had many of them. It is only fitting and proper that he reached the 1,700-game milestone in a San Jose uniform, and he hasn't closed the door and pursuing another one.

After Saturday night, Marleau now trails Gordie Howe by only 67 games for the most all-time in NHL history. He would have to return for a 23rd season in order to eclipse that record, and while Marleau admitted that it's something he has thought about, he isn't looking that far ahead.

"It crosses your mind, but obviously you have to take it one game at a time," Marleau said of chasing Howe. "I hate saying that, but that's the way it is, and that's the way it has always been."

After playing 1,700 games, one could hardly blame Marleau for his one-game-at-a-time approach. But if Saturday night was any indication, he definitely has a shot at standing alone atop that all-time games-played list.

Sharks' Patrick Marleau defies laws of time, has Gordie Howe in sights originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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