Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan spoke with the media prior to puck drop on what could be the night his team wins the Stanley Cup:
Q. Just wondering, in your experience with Sidney Crosby, what he will do or what he can do to set the tone for the group heading into a game of this kind of importance.
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I think he’ll play his game. You know, and I think he’ll bring his very best. He’s a difference-maker. I think he sets the tone for our team. He’s the heartbeat of this hockey team, and his leadership certainly helps this team be the type of team or create the identity that we want to create. It starts with his competitiveness. I think he’s a fierce competitor. I think he sees the opportunity that’s in front of us, and he understands that we’ve got to go out and earn it. And so I’m sure Sid will be at his very best tonight.
Q. Without Kris Letang in these Playoffs, your defensemen have played around 19 minutes or so. It’s been very even. You haven’t really worried about matchups too much. You want Letang there, but has it made it easier to coach this group and when to put them out because you don’t have the one guy you have to have out there at all times?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, obviously without Tanger, when you look at the group that we have, we feel like the strength of the group is in the balance. And so as a coaching staff, we made a decision early on in the Playoffs that we weren’t going to ask any defense pair or player to bear the burden of responsibility for particular matchups or whatever it may be. We believe that if we can balance the minutes and manage the minutes and not overtax guys that we’re going to give them all an opportunity to be at their best. So when you look at the three pairs that we have, you know, they’re fairly evenly balanced. There’s tandems that there’s usually a skater with each group, and there’s a guy that defends hard and there’s a puck mover. So we don’t believe or we don’t feel like there’s a necessity to have to have a particular pair or person on the ice, and so because of that, I think we’ve been able to manage minutes.
We haven’t overtaxed guys. They’ve been able to recover from game to game and series to series, and we think that’s what gives us the best chance to be successful, and that’s how we’ve done it.
Q. Tonight will be your 213th game since the start of — or the Penguins as a whole. How have you guys managed to stay fresh? And at times did you sort of manage things with the end goal in mind, pushing a little bit less in December knowing it’s going to be a long season?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Yeah, we knew going into this season that the coaching staff was going to have to have — there were going to be particular challenges that we were going to have to try to navigate through, and patience was going to be a fundamental part of it. We tried to push these guys in the right direction to get the very best out of them, to hold them accountable to a certain standard because we believe that they’re a competitive group and we’re a good hockey team.
But at the same side of the coin, we predicted that there were going to be challenges in the schedule where we, as a coaching staff, were going to have to make sure that we walked that line of pushing them in the right direction but also having a certain amount of patience in allowing our players to play through certain situations. And we’ve tried to do that throughout the course of the season.
You know, I’m sure there were points in time where we did it better than others, but that was something that we did discuss last summer. That was something that we tried to predict and prepare for.
Q. The opportunity lies ahead tonight to clinch back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. What do you sense in the locker room as far as attitude and mentality goes heading into Game 6 in this kind of environment?
MIKE SULLIVAN: I think our players are just trying to stay in the moment. You know, I think they have a businesslike approach. They go about their routines like we always do. I think they understand the opportunity that’s in front of us, and I think they’re looking forward to the challenge.
But they also understand that it’s going to be a hard-fought battle, and we’re going to have to bring our best in order to have success. And so, you know, that’s the mindset that I believe our players are in. They understand that we’ve got to go out and earn everything we get.
Q. You often talk about playing the right way, and I wonder do you sort of emphasize that because it’s applicable in like a lot of different situations? You have injuries, play the right way; you’re in a difficult building, play the right way.
MIKE SULLIVAN: Yes, I think it’s part of the identity of this group. We’ve tried to define for them what it means to play the right way. So I think our players are well aware of the details that we talk about, whether it be X’s and O’s — but it’s beyond X’s and O’s. When we use that phrase play the right way, it’s not just about the details of the X’s and O’s, it’s about a mindset, it’s about a resilience, it’s about a competitive nature that defines this group. And so we use that phrase daily with our team, and it means a lot of things to our group. It’s hard to just, I think, encapsulate what that means to our team in just a few short sentences. But I think our players are well aware of what that phrase means to this particular group, and it applies. It applies in every circumstance.
So we focus on the process. We focus on the details. We try to stay in the moment, control what we can, and we’re going to do our very best to play the game the right way tonight.
Q. You might have just answered this, but take us into the locker room and what your pregame speech might sound like tonight. Do you reinforce those points you just made?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I just think it’s important that we stay in the moment. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. And I believe that we have a mature group, and we have great leadership and we trust our leadership, that these guys understand it.
They’ve been here before. They know what it’s about. They also understand that nothing has been accomplished. We have to go out and we’ve got to earn that next victory, and we know how difficult that’s going to be, and we’ve got to be prepared to bring our very best game to the table. And so that’s where the mindset is. That’s where the focus is. No one is getting ahead of themselves in this locker room. We’re going to take each shift as it comes, and we’re going to try to focus on those things that we can control.
Q. The last two series have seemed to follow similar trajectories where your team has played better as the series has gone along. Can you make sense of that?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I think it says a lot about the type of people that we’ve got in our room. I think we have a competitive group. I think these guys have an appetite to win. I also think they have great aptitude for the game and have the ability to adjust and find ways to have success. I think it says a lot about the players that we have and the character of the people that they are.