"The emotional roller coaster, it was definitely a long ride," Marleau said. "I'm very grateful and blessed that I was able to do this with all the support I've had over my career. It's something I'll never forget."
Marleau started the game at right wing, with the Sharks wearing a special logo of his No. 12 on the upper right chest of their jerseys. He bumped gloves with Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty when they lined up for the opening face-off. The puck dropped, and it was official.
[RELATED: Marleau honored for games played record | NHL community applauds Marleau]
Howe held the NHL record for regular-season games played since Nov. 26, 1961, when he surpassed Ted Lindsay and became the first to reach 1,000 games. He played 1,687 in 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings (1946-71) and 80 in one season with the Hartford Whalers (1979-80).
Now the record belongs to Marleau.
The 41-year-old has played 1,596 games in 21 seasons with the Sharks, including 45 this season to extend his streak of consecutive regular-season games to 899, fourth-longest in NHL history. He also played 164 games in two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs (2017-19) and eight games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
Video: Marleau breaks Howe's games-played record
After Marleau finished his first shift at 1:03 of the first period and a hand pass caused the first whistle of the game at 1:20, play stopped. The public address announcer acknowledged the feat. As fans applauded and players from both teams tapped their sticks, Marleau came off the bench and raised his stick.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman congratulated Marleau with a special message on the video board.
"To be merely mentioned in the same sentence as Gordie Howe is an achievement most hockey players can only dream about," the Commissioner said. "To break one of his records is historic."
Marleau stood with one hand on the boards and looked up as Commissioner Bettman spoke.
"To earn a precious spot in an NHL lineup night after night, year after year, you have to earn it every single game," the Commissioner said. "You have to possess talent that is extremely elite, an incredible passion for the game, a relentless drive to stay in shape and remain impactful by continuously improving and adapting your skills so that coaches simply cannot take you out of the lineup."
Commissioner Bettman mentioned the who's who of players Marleau passed -- Joe Thornton (1,669), Ron Francis (1,731), Jaromir Jagr (1,733), Mark Messier (1,756) and Howe -- and said he had watched Marleau grow into a model for NHL players on and off the ice.
"Congratulations on this astounding achievement and a career that shows no signs of slowing down," Commissioner Bettman said.
The fans cheered again. Marleau clapped his gloves and waved back.
"We didn't know that they were going to stop play after the first whistle there, and that video and the response by both teams and the crowd, I was tearing up," Sharks captain Logan Couture said. "It's cool to be a part of, and something every player in this game will remember for the rest of their life."
Video: Patrick Marleau plays his first game in the NHL
After the game, the Golden Knights lined up to congratulate Marleau on the ice. Marleau saluted his fans, family and friends, then did an interview with NBCSCA and was asked what keeps him coming to the rink.
"I just love it," Marleau said, choking up, wiping his face with a towel. "There's nothing else like it."
The Sharks stayed in uniform until Marleau walked into the dressing room and gave him a standing ovation. In tears, Marleau told them how much his teammates meant to him over the years and that he couldn't have gotten to this point without a lot of great people surrounding him. Sharks coach Bob Boughner called it a touching moment.
"Special," Marleau said. "Super special. You don't know what to expect, but when guys do things like that, just very … I keep using the same words over and over. I'm sorry. But it's humbling to show the respect, and I'm so grateful they were part of it tonight.
"It was a really special night. You don't have these nights without teammates, without great organizations. Definitely have those covered for sure."
Video: Patrick Marleau plays his 1,768th career NHL game
Sharks equipment manager Mike Aldrich had many commemorative items made, from gloves to T-shirts to hoodies to nameplates.
"I showed up at the rink with him this morning, and he saw all the stuff in everyone's stall, and he shook his head saying he didn't want any of that extra," Couture said. "He just wanted it to be like another game. Just who Patty is."
Boughner showed a highlight video of Marleau's career to the Sharks before the game, including funny moments and messages from former teammates, instead of his usual reminders focused on the opponent.
"It was just a really cool moment," Boughner said. "It was perfect for the day."
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report