Rarely does the Wild salute the opposition, but what Sharks forward Patrick Marleau achieved was extraordinary.
Marleau made history Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, playing in his 1,767th game to tie Gordie Howe for the NHL record. He was recognized for the milestone during a break in the action of the first period, receiving stick taps from both benches and waving to the crowd that gave him a standing ovation.
"Anybody that's played the game at any level knows how hard a game it is," said Wild coach Dean Evason, who played for the Sharks from 1991-93. Marleau debuted with San Jose in 1997. "You're skating around on a couple of quarter-inch pieces of steel. It's absolutely incredible to play that long and that many games and still be playing with the pace he plays the game at. It's a tremendous honor for him, for sure."
Marleau is set to surpass Howe on Monday, when San Jose is at Vegas. He'll be the first player from the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB to overtake a leader in all-time regular-season games played in more than 16 years; NFL kicker Morten Andersen was the last to accomplish the feat, passing George Blanda on Sept. 26, 2004.
The Wild players shook Marleau's hand postgame, the suggestion of Ryan Suter, Evason said.
"When you get recognized like that, not only your team standing up for you but the other building's fans cheering for you, the other team doing it, it hits home," Marleau said. "It's definitely humbling for them to show their support for me."
That Marleau is rewriting the record book with the Sharks is fitting.
He was drafted by the franchise and spent his first 19 seasons with San Jose before joining Toronto and Pittsburgh. In his third stint with the team, Marleau has suited up for 1,595 games, the second-most played for one franchise in NHL history. He trails only Howe, who had 1,687 with Detroit.
The 41-year-old's career spans four decades, and Marleau has appeared in more regular-season games than the Wild franchise has played (1,554).
"That's a crazy number," said Zach Parise, who's logged 1,050 regular-season games. "To pass Gordie Howe, that's a lot of hockey. Just having passed 1,000, I think I've played a lot and then I see he's about to do almost double."
Mats Zuccarello usually sets up goals, but lately he's been finishing them — scoring three times off five shots in the first two games of last week and scoring again Saturday.
But the Wild would like the playmaking veteran to still increase his shot volume.
"He sees the pass almost without even looking at it," Evason said. "[He's] a natural. But if you start with that shot, then the defenseman has to obviously honor that, try to get into the shooting lane, and then that passing lane opens up even more.
"He's done a real nice job of varying it. [He] can still shoot some more, but we're happy that he is at least looking to shoot more than he has in the past."
Nick Bjugstad is expected to travel with the Wild for its four-game road trip that starts Monday at Arizona.
Bjugstad hasn't played since suffering an upper-body injury April 5, sitting out six games.