Emotion nibbling at Penguins as Stanley Cup beckons
It's like the day before the day before Christmas for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A mere 48 hours from now, they'll have their first crack at win number 16. With that magical victory comes a chance to parade the Stanley Cup on home ice for the first time in franchise history.
Excited? Who wouldn't be? Seven years removed from their last title, the Pens are anxious to seal the deal. But they know they can't afford to get ahead of themselves. Not against an opponent as capable as the San Jose Sharks.
For now then, they're focusing on keeping their emotions in check. Coach Mike Sullivan is turning to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and other veterans of that 2009 championship squad to steady the ship.
"We've got some guys in here that have this in perspective, that have been through similar experiences in the past," Sullivan said on Tuesday.
"I think our guys are very grounded. They understand the challenge in front of us. We just have to focus on that one game, and we've got to bring our very best for that one game. That's all that we can control."
That's really no different than what they've done to this point. Through the first four games of the final, Pittsburgh has controlled nearly every aspect of play. The Penguins have been the aggressors from the opening face-off, scoring first in each contest. They've been harder on the puck, winning far more than their fair share of battles and generating far more turnovers. They've peppered Sharks goaltender Martin Jones with shots from all angles, shut down San Jose's top attackers and been relentless in defense of their own end.
By all rights, they should have skated the Cup on Monday night in San Jose. But three wins isn't the same as four in any series, let alone the Stanley Cup Final. And the Sharks, a team that knocked off the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues on the way to this party, aren't planning on rolling over for any coronation on Thursday night.
The Pens have proven themselves in elimination games in these playoffs, going 4-1, but the Sharks, a team that led the league in road victories this season, will be their toughest out yet.
Sullivan says his team has dealt with their previous challenges because they've handled themselves the right way. And he doesn't see that changing before Game 5.
"I really give our team a lot of credit because we've been able to stay in the moment for a long time now," Sullivan said. "I think that's one of the reasons why we've been able to win as many games as we have, is just that short-term focus."
Don't look beyond the task at hand. Don't dwell on the past. And remember that no matter what they've done to this point, they've yet to accomplish what they set out to do.
"We still have a lot of work ahead of us," Sullivan said. "Our players are well aware of that. We have a lot of respect for the San Jose Sharks, how good their team is. We know that we're going to need our very best in order to accomplish our ultimate goal."