When it comes to Patrick Roy's all-time wins record, Martin Brodeur is at least in pursuit of a man. A onetime flesh-and-blood rival.
Now, the New Jersey Devils goalie finds himself chasing down a myth. An orange-and-black apparition of a bygone era. A strip of film on ESPN Classic. A superbly economical, unsurpassingly technical phantom flickering past at 100 frames per second.
Martin Brodeur isn't so sure he can reach 47 or 48 wins. The myth seems more convinced.
"Oh, I think so," Bernie Parent replied. "I hope so. I think it's awesome. An exciting way to end the season. I consider Brodeur to be the best in the league right now.
"Why do I like him as a goalie? One is his passion for the game. He's almost 35, right? And still, you see how he competes on the ice, see his desire on every shot. That's what keeps you young in this game, the passion and pride to play and to be good and to win.
"So that's one reason. But I guess the main one would be that he's … French!"
Parent laughed, hardly bitter or sullen at having a piece of personal history under threat.
As the 2006-07 regular season draws to a breathless conclusion, both Brodeur, a couple of average (by his admittedly lofty standards) seasons away from overtaking Roy's all-time goaltending wins mark of 551, and Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks are both engaged in hunting down Parent's single-season wins record of 47.
Parent set the mark playing for the Philadelphia Flyers back in the 1973-74 campaign. As of Friday morning, Brodeur is 44-23-7 and Luongo is 45-20-6 -- both with five games left on the schedule.
"Hey, it's been nice to have all these years, but records don't last forever," Parent said. "That's life, right? There comes a time when you've got to let it go. I guess this is that time for me."
Parent's record-setting season was arguably the best a goaltender's put in, ever. Think about it. A 47-13-12 record. A 1.89 goals-against average. A Stanley Cup. A Conn Smythe Trophy. The works.
For those of us from a certain generation, even those who couldn't abide the roughhouse tactics of those Broad Street Bullies or Bobby Clarke's malicious, gap-toothed grin, there was nothing but grudging admiration for the No. 1 tending goal for the Flyers. He was a bastion of calm in a squall, an indisputable class act, and just so damn good at his job. You couldn't help but step back and applaud.
That iconic sign held aloft in tribute to that cauldron of intimidation, the old Philadelphia Spectrum, said it all: "Only God Saves More Than Bernie Parent."
"You mention the 47 wins and the 1.89 goals-against. But I was only part of the puzzle. I don't care who you are, how good a goaltender you are, nobody wins 47 games without a great, great team in front of you," Parent said. "I remember [that season] more for what we did as a team. Winning the Stanley Cup. Getting to carry the Stanley Cup. That was the important thing.
"I always talk about Jacques Plante and Gump Worsley. During his prime, Jacques played for the Canadiens, a great team, won five Stanley Cups in a row, Vezina Trophies, everything. And Gump played for the Rangers. A bad team."
(So bad, that once, when asked which team gave him the most trouble, Worsley replied, without so much as a smile, "The Rangers." He did not win a Cup in New York.)
Parent's wins record has lasted through a host of superb netminders, through the challenges of Roy, Grant Fuhr, Dominik Hasek, Ken Dryden and Billy Smith, among others.
"Yeah, I am surprised it's stood up this long," Parent acknowledged. "For a while there, teams seemed to alternate more, give their guys more of a rest. When I played, one goalie pretty much played all the time. You can only do something like this, obviously, if you're in there an awful lot."
During that historic season, Parent started 73 of the Flyers' 78 games. Brodeur and Luongo, of course, have the benefit of an 82-game schedule. Then there's the little matter of overtime and shootout wins. Given Parent's greatness and the Flyers' dominance, it's a certainty he would've tacked on eight or nine more wins if he had the benefit of OT and shootouts.
But that, insisted Parent, is irrelevant. This shouldn't be a record with an asterisk.
"Whoever gets to the other side of 47, I say good for him. I don't think [overtimes and shootouts] should be a focal point. The game has changed in a lot of ways. It's the same as home runs in baseball. Guys hit more of them today.
"And, despite overtime, as a goalie, you still have to win the games. The goalies today are bigger and stronger than we were, in my time. I'm someone who believes you go with the flow. So let's go. The target's 47. Let's all sit back and enjoy the ride."
George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.