By ROBERT MACLEOD
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
TORONTO -- Mike Babcock bounded into the interview room at Scotiabank Arena after the morning skate on Monday to conduct his pregame session with members of the media.
Normally these affairs with the Toronto Maple Leafs' coach are tightly regimented. Any smidgen of dead air is a signal to Babcock the questions have dried up and he will beat a hasty retreat to wherever it is he hangs his clipboards.
So the queries come rapid fire from often breathless reporters and even still, these meetings rarely eclipse the five-minute barrier.
But on this morning, as the Leafs prepare to renew hostilities against the Boston Bruins, Babcock arrives having surmised what topic those assembled want to discuss.
As he steps onto the podium, Babcock, without prompting, states something to the effect that it has been a smooth journey to 1,600.
When that comment is met with silence, the coach insists the reporters can do better than that, and he starts clapping. It was a standing ovation of one.
This was Babcock's way of paying homage to Patrick Marleau, the Toronto forward who, on Monday night, played in his 1,600th National Hockey League regular-season game.
And the Leafs would help commemorate the occasion with a 4-2 victory over one of their Original Six rivals, a fast-paced, entertaining affair that provided plenty of thrills and chills for the more than 19,000 on hand on a rainy Toronto evening.
The Leafs led 1-0 after the first and 3-2 heading into the third in a fast-paced tilt with plenty of scoring chances at both ends.
In the third, the frenzied tempo continued with John Tavares getting a good scoring chance early on for Toronto followed by Marleau, but Boston goaltender Jaroslav Halak stood tall.
At the other end, many in the building thought Danton Heinen got one past Toronto netminder Frederik Andersen, but the puck rang off a post and Boston, try as they might, just could not muster the equalizer.
And the Leafs would seal the deal with 1 minute 35 seconds left when Zach Hyman potted his fourth of the season into an empty net.
At the age of 39 and now in his 21st NHL campaign, the pace of the game seems to be catching up with the even-keeled Marleau, who entered Monday's contest with just five goals on his ledger after notching 27 in each of the past two seasons.
Still, 1,600 games is quite the accomplishment in this dine and dash era of professional sports. It is a club that has now grown to 11 with the inclusion of Marleau.
Even the otherwise worldly prolific Wayne Gretzky only played in 1,487. Gordie Howe still tops the list, with 1,767 games logged.
The Leafs paid homage to the milestone during a stoppage of play in the first period with a video tribute that was followed by a warm standing ovation to the Toronto alternate captain, who raised his stick in the air in a heartfelt thanks.
"Been around a while, I guess that's what that means," Marleau responded with typical restraint earlier in the day when asked how he feels about achieving the milestone. "I enjoy coming to the rink every day, so it's another game and I look forward to it."
Babcock insists the value of veteran can't be measured only by the score sheet.
"I mean, genetics," Babcock responded, when asked what separates Marleau from other NHL players he has encountered over the years. "He's worked very, very hard, unbelievable skater, loves the monotony of the game.
"Great, great human being."
Boston came into the contest a hurting outfit, with a number of key players sidelined by injury.
Chief among them was centre Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins' smooth-skating offensive star who is out with a rib-cage injury.
The Bruins were also absent a couple of key blueliners in Charlie McAvoy (concussion) and the elongated Zdeno Chara (knee).
The Leafs were without top centre Auston Matthews, who is still recovering from a shoulder separation.
The Leafs had plenty of goldplated scoring chances in the first period but would skate away with just a 1-0 lead courtesy of Travis Dermott's first goal of the season.
The Toronto defender beat Halak with a rising wrist shot to the glove side at the 17:44 mark.
The game opened up in the second period with four goals, two apiece, with the Leafs able to carry a 3-2 lead into the third.
Boston sniper David Pastrnak carded two for the Bruins, including one on the power play, giving him 19 goals on the season.
Igor Ozhiganov tallied his first NHL goal of his career for the Leafs with Josh Leivo potting his fourth on the power play at the 18:38 mark to move Toronto back in front.
The Leafs' Travis Dermott blasts a goal past the Bruins' Jaroslav Halak at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Monday. The Leafs led 1-0 after the first and 3-2 heading into the third.
CLAUS ANDERSEN/GETTY IMAGES