The Pittsburgh Penguins will be looking to clinch their first championship since 2009 on Thursday night when they host Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Penguins are up 3-1 on the San Jose Sharks after they took the fourth game of the series on the road.
Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan said on Wednesday of what winning a clincher is like for a team, “Well, I think you know you’re going to get your opponent’s very best. We know that. We’re going to have to have our very best in order to get the result that we want.
“Our players are well aware of that. Our focus is on that one game
in front of us. We’ve been through a few of those elimination experiences already this season. We have that experience to draw on. I think our players are well aware of what to expect as far as
how that game is going to be played, the urgency, the intensity, the focus, the determination that it’s going to take in order for us to win.
“We’re going to have to bring our very best to the table,” said Sullivan.
On what Sullivan has said to his team about Game 5, and is has ever
said explicitly that the next step is something tangible, like the
Stanley Cup, anything more than the concept of getting there, “No. I don’t think it’s necessary. We all set out in training camp to accomplish a certain goal. I think that goal is obvious. The most effective way to get there is to make sure that our focus is on the task at hand. That’s the process that we talk about every day. That’s what we talk to our players about.
“I think our guys have done a great job as far as staying in the moment, not getting ahead of themselves, not dwelling on the past, but just staying in the moment and staying on task. That, I think, is more important now than it’s ever been. That was the discussion that we had with our guys this morning. We’ve got one game in front of us, and we got to focus all of our energy to bring our very best to the table to win a game.”
The impact of Mike Sullivan on this team cannot be overstated. Sullivan, who used to be an assistant with the Rangers when John Tortorella was the head coach, took over in December as the Penguins Head Coach.
The Penguins were a rejuvenated team and they went 33-16-5 under Sullivan and were the hottest team in the NHL after the All-Star Break.
They rode that momentum into the playoffs where they beat the Rangers in the opening round in five games, upset the top-seeded Washington Capitals in the second round, and the defending Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Finals in seven games.
There is talk that Sullivan could be the first coach ever to be a finalist to the Conn Smythe, and he said of that, “I really don’t have a reaction. My focus is on trying to win a game. I’m trying to help our players in every way that we can as a coaching staff so that they can be at their best.
“It’s important, from our standpoint, to make sure that our mindset
is on that task at hand. All the other stuff is for you guys. Right now our players and our coaching staff are focused on that one game.”
Sullivan said of how he could gauge his value and what he has meant to this team, “The way I look at it, this is the players’ game.
The players are the guys that get it done. They deserve the credit. These guys have played extremely hard. They’ve made the sacrifices that are necessary in order for us to be in a position where we are.
“That is how we look at it. We put ourselves in a position to have
a great opportunity. Now it’s our job to take advantage of it. But our players deserve all the credit for bringing us to where we are right now. They’re the guys that go through the process every day.
They make the necessary sacrifices on the ice in order to help our team win.”
The Penguins had a full practice on Wednesday to train for Game 5.
Sullivan said of whether it’s more about there still being things to be learned and taught out there, or if it’s just a matter of routine and focus, “It’s a little bit of both. We worked on things out there today that we think will help us in the next game. That’s been our approach all year, is we’re trying to get better every day when we come to the rink.
“That’s what we tried to do today. We tried to get better out there
today. We watched some film. We saw some areas where we think we can improve to help our chances to win in the next game. We worked on some of those areas on the ice today. That’s the process this team has gone through since I’ve been here. We’ll continue to go through that process.
“I don’t think you ever arrive. We can always get better and improve. I think it’s that insatiable appetite to improve and get better that has allowed this team to get to the point where it’s at. We’re going to keep pushing until we achieve our ultimate goal.”