SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Growing up in the small town of Aneroid, Saskatchewan, Patrick Marleau always was the fastest kid on the ice.
Now that he's four months shy of his 34th birthday and in his 15th NHL season with the San Jose Sharks, not much has changed for Marleau.
Marleau used his sprinter's speed to score the game-winning goal in overtime when the Sharks completed a sweep of the Vancouver Canucks in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
"I kind of stayed onside, but I still had gained that speed in the neutral zone and then just kind of followed the play in, and then I saw [Thornton] shoot and was going to the net at the same time," Marleau said. "It was just laying there."
That would be the puck, and he knocked the rebound home for a power-play goal at 13:18, before Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider could recover after making the initial save.
"He [Marleau] saw it, and I saw it probably at the same time," Sharks center Logan Couture said of the puck. "He got there about two steps ahead of me. That shows how slow I am compared to how fast he is.
"I wish I could skate like him. He's just so explosive. He'll outskate a lot of [defensemen], outside speed. Wins a lot of puck races."
Marleau used his explosive speed and quickness to score a goal in every game against Vancouver, helping lead San Jose to a conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Kings.
Marleau scored the game-tying goal with 56 seconds left in regulation in Game 2, and the Sharks went on to win 3-2 in overtime. Roberto Luongo had rejected Marleau's shot from the slot, but the puck trickled behind him, and Marleau jetted to the net and scored before Luongo could cover it.
Most 30-something athletes start losing a step here or there; if Marleau has, no one seems to have noticed.
"It's crazy how you can be 33 and you can still be the fastest guy on the ice whenever he wants," Sharks forward TJ Galiardi said. "It kind of makes you feel bad about yourself sometimes. I think I'm a decent skater and I'm flying, and then all of a sudden I look beside me and he's not even trying and he's going faster than me. I'm like, 'How the heck is this [happening]? Crazy.' And he can take over a game. That's the biggest thing about Patty. He's been doing this all playoffs for us."
What's Marleau's secret?
"I just try to do what it takes to stay in shape and stay strong," Marleau said. "In the offseason and during the season, working with [strength and conditioning coordinator Mike] Potenza, and just doing some different things to keep the leg strength up. It helps the speed on the ice."
The fact that Marleau has logged so much NHL experience also helps him get the jump on his younger opponents.
"It's all game situations where you see speed," Marleau said. "I think if you line guys up on the blue line or red line and have a race, there's like tenths of a second difference between people, but during a game it's read and reaction, knowing when to jump in the holes, that makes people look fast."
Marleau has a history of going on hot streaks -- in the regular season and playoffs -- and he never was hotter than during the Sharks' first five regular-season games. He scored two goals in each of the first four games and one goal in the fifth. He had three game-winners and four assists during that streak.
Heading into the playoffs, however, Marleau had just one goal in his final 16 regular-season games. But he has thrived in the playoffs while skating on a line with Couture and, since an injury to Martin Havlat early in Game 1 against Vancouver, the speedy and aggressive Raffi Torres.
In past playoffs with the Sharks, the pressure squarely was on Marleau to carry most of the goal-scoring load. He often has taken the brunt of criticism for the Sharks' postseason failures and for what his critics consider to be a lack of passion on the ice.
"He’s a really misunderstood athlete," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "The passion in him is exceptional. He just doesn't [outwardly] show it all the time. We see it."
This year Marleau is sharing the postseason scoring load with a long list of teammates, including Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Torres. The question now is whether that balanced scoring can help Marleau -- and the Sharks -- win the Stanley Cup for the first time.
"It would mean everything," Marleau said. "Since you were a little kid and you knew what it's all about, you want to win it. You play with your friends, you're playing for it all the time, imaginary Stanley Cup. Just loving the game.
"I think it would be great to be able to share it with my family and my friends. We're playing for the Stanley Cup all the time in the basement with my boys. That would be something, to be able to have it and maybe have a little game in the basement for it."
Marleau has just one season left on his contract with the Sharks. He'll be nearly 35 when his deal is set to expire, but Marleau said he's not even thinking about retirement.
"I think I still got a lot of hockey ahead of me," Marleau said.
So far Marleau has played his entire NHL career with the Sharks, but he said he doesn't know if he'll finish his career with San Jose.
"You can never be sure," Marleau said. "We'll see. I don't know. It would be nice. Obviously, it would be nice to win a Cup here and finish my career here."
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