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Patrick Marleau makes history in loss to Golden Knights

Updated April 19, 2021 - 11:13 pm

In the name of history, bitter rivals found common ground Monday night.

Which doesn’t mean Ryan Reaves and Evander Kane were seen sharing a few 7Five beers.

If it’s true records are meant to be broken, there are still ones nobody believes will fall. Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks and his unfathomable staying power challenged that notion. He won.

Marleau is the NHL’s all-time leader in games played at 1,768, having passed Gordie Howe’s mark in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Golden Knights before 3,950 at T-Mobile Arena.

How historic was it?

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman delivered a video message at the game’s first stoppage and wasn’t booed.

How strange was it?

One of countless such recordings sent to Marleau came via the Toronto Maple Leafs. In it, stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are offering congratulations while Joe Thornton — one of Marleau’s closest friends and a longtime teammate in San Jose — is in the background staring at the camera.

Wearing flip-flops, a COVID-19 mask and … nothing else.

So there was that.

Earned every shift

Durability occurs with progress. That’s what makes Marleau’s record so impressive. He has stood the test of eras, from a physical, tight checking game to the track meets you often see now.

And as things evolved — as players got bigger and faster and stronger, as technology and training improved — Marleau kept performing. Never cheated the game. Earned every last shift.

Think about it: Marleau, now 41, played his first NHL game in October 1997.

Connor McDavid was 8 months old and Tiger Woods was coming off his first major championship.

So, you know, a really long time ago.

“It’s crazy to think about,” Knights captain Mark Stone said. “You have to have some good luck with injuries, you have to be a great player from when you’re 19 and now at 41. Everyone in our locker room respects the hell out of what he’s doing.

“I’ve played seven full seasons, and it has been a grind. For him to play 82 games a season, never miss a game, always being there, speaks volumes about how good a professional he is.”

Moments such as this are always debated when compared to others. Which is silly. Let each stand on its own.

Argue over important things. Like who in the world was dunce enough to vote Chance as the NHL’s best mascot over Gritty.

You had Cal Ripken play in 2,632 straight games. And the 81 straight wins on clay by tennis great Rafael Nadal. And those 56 consecutive games with a hit by Joe DiMaggio.

Brett Favre. Glenn Hall. Rocky Marciano. On and on.

And, finally, the weird Benjamin Button act of Tom Brady, who still will be playing quarterback when he’s 100 but looking like he’s 25.

Passing Mr. Hockey

This might be the most impressive part of Marleau’s record: Howe wasn’t human.

He was the only player to compete professionally in five decades. Well, really six after signing a one-day contract with the Detroit Vipers at … age 69.

Come on. Mr. Hockey was taking NHL shifts at age 51.

“I mean, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr — those are the names anybody who knows anything about the NHL talks about,” said Knights coach Pete DeBoer, who coached Marleau in San Jose for two-plus seasons. “If you’re passing any of those guys in any record book for anything, that’s an incredible accomplishment. This number of games, for me, is almost incomprehensible to think about.

“When you think about how we honor 1,000 games played, he’s now at 1,700 and change.”

Hours after he teared up more than once in a video interview with the media, after Knights fans gave him a standing ovation and players from both sides a stick tap worth all 1,768 games, after he waved to his wife and children, Marleau slowly skated down a line and shook hands with each Golden Knights player.

Another standing ovation. More stick taps. One final wave to the crowd.

History and a naked Joe Thornton. What a night.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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