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These Lemieux milestones are ones to pause and consider

| Sunday, Oct. 26, 2003

Run the words "Lemieux milestone" through an Internet search engine, and in roughly 0.23 seconds, you'll get approximately 2,200 results.

Career milestones are nothing new for Mario Lemieux. Penguins fans have watched him hit one after another over the years, most recently the 1,000th assist mark Feb. 8 against the Boston Bruins.

Going into Friday night's game against the New Jersey Devils, Lemieux was just three points shy of becoming the sixth player in NHL history to record 1,700 points. Of the five who've reached 1,700 points before him -- Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe and Ron Francis -- only Gretzky will have done it in fewer games (711). Lemieux played his 885th game Friday. Dionne is third on the list, having reached 1,700 points in 1,257 games.

Lemieux could take until January to hit 1,700, and he would still do it in four fewer seasons than Dionne.

Lemieux also needed just 17 goals to record his 700th going into Friday's game. He'll become only the fourth player in NHL history to collect 1,700 points and 17 goals.

It's almost hard to put into perspective, after getting used to seeing milestones come and go for Lemieux, what 1,700 points and 700 goals means. But that number -- four -- goes a long way toward understanding. In the history of the NHL, only Gretzky, Howe and Dionne have collected 1,700 points and 700 goals.

According to the NHL, there have been 5,059 players in the league since its inception in 1917-18.

"I think it's an accurate statistic for their greatness that there's just such a huge gap between (them and) the majority of the rest of the league of all-time players," said Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, who saw Lemieux's 1,697th point Wednesday. "There's a lot of really good players who get good points, but who never have to play against the other team's best all night, every night, in every game, at home and on the road. There's not a lot of players who you create a game plan for. But when those guys are on the ice, you have to have a special idea of who you want out there and how you're going to play against them. So, they've been able to generate that kind of offense under great defensive scrutiny and that's wildly impressive."

And as is always the asterisk with Lemieux milestones, there is the question of "what if."

"You try to put everything in perspective, and you look at his numbers and see the company he's with," Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. "But you think about the number of games that he's played, you think about where would it be• If he would have played another 300 games, holy cow. Where would he be?"

It's a question Penguins general manager Craig Patrick won't entertain.

"It is what it is," he said.

But Patrick doesn't have to ask. He knows.

"I think he would have reached it a long time ago if he was healthy," Patrick said. "In my eyes, after watching him all these years and having the benefit of growing up watching so many other people that are Hall of Famers, to me, he's the greatest player I've ever seen. It's too bad that he couldn't play healthy all the time, because he'd be up there with Wayne Gretzky."

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