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Leafs forward Patrick Marleau plays in his 1,500th career NHL game

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau waved to the crowd with a smile after they gave him a standing ovation for reaching a career milestone.

Marleau played in his 1,500th NHL game on Wednesday as Toronto beat Detroit 6-3 at Air Canada Centre, making the 38-year-old just the 18th player in league history to reach the mark.

"Nice to be recognized like that, it's always nice when the teammates are congratulating you and giving you a bit of hard time," said Marleau about the moment.

Marleau's ability to stay healthy is the biggest reason he's played so many games. He's now dressed in 631 straight regular-season games, missing only 31 in 20 seasons, and last sat out in April of 2009.

"I've just surrounded myself with good people, at the rink and away from the rink, that are really good at their jobs, helping you to keep healthy," Marleau said. "(Milestones) are nice to have but I'm more focused on the game."

"It's definitely gone by quick, but it has been enjoyable and I'm happy to get as far as I have," said Marleau.

Steve Yzerman is next on the list, 17th with 1,514.

Gordie Howe is the all-times leader for games played with 1,767. Fourteen of the 17 players ahead of Marleau are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, with only Jaromir Jagr (1,714), Jarome Iginla (1,554) and Shane Doan (1,540) missing out.

If Marleau were to play all 82 games this season, he would finish the year 11th all-time.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock says the milestone has extra meaning when it's hit by a player like Marleau.

"It's one thing to hit 1,500 and it's another thing to be as good as he is and play with the pace that he does and be the kind of person he is," said Babcock. 

"Pretty special. Pretty special for our team here to witness it…. We're lucky to have him."

Marleau, who was signed by Toronto in the off-season in large part to his veteran presence and playoff experience, has left an impression on his much-younger teammates.

"He's a guy you can look up to day in and day out doing it right," said 23-year-old teammate Connor Brown.

Marleau, from Swift Current, Sask., says when he broke into the league as an 18-year-old rookie in 1997-98 with the San Jose Sharks, longevity was the last thing on his mind. He just wanted to stick around.

"At that time, you are just trying to get a foothold in the game, playing for a club and in the NHL," said Marleau. "You're not really thinking about much more than that."

Marleau entered Wednesday's contest with 511 goals and 1,087 points.

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