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May 26, 2016

Mike Sullivan

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Game Seven

Pittsburgh – 2
Tampa Bay – 1

Q. Coach, coming into this, you said you knew your team would respond the right way. How proud are you of the way they responded and pretty much dominated by the way the score ended up being?
COACH SULLIVAN: I can't even explain to you how excited I am for the group we have and how proud I am of them for how hard we play for each other. You know, I've been in the game a long time, and you don't always get associated with a group that has the chemistry this group has, and when you do, it's something special.
I believe that we have evolved into a team in the true sense of the word, and I thought tonight it was on display.

Q. Mike, the third period, you guys seemed a lot more aggressive than you were in Game 6 during the third period. Was that by design, or is that the third period you pretty much always wanted your guys to play?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, we'd like to play that way all the time. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen that way. Tampa Bay is a team that, if you give them time and space, they're very dangerous. They're a very good team. They're dynamic offensively. We wanted to play in their face and try to keep the gaps tight so that we could take some of their speed away and their ability to stretch the ice. And when we don't play that way, I think, for example, in the third period in Game 6, you can see how dangerous they can be.
We tried to use that as -- we tried to use that experience coming into this third period here in Game 7 and say, you know, we can't make that same mistake. We've got to continue to skate. We've got to continue to pursue. We've got to continue to play the same way that's brought us the success that the first two periods did, and if we do that, we're a much more difficult team to play against. And I think we take the speed away that makes Tampa Bay so dangerous.

Q. Coach, at the start of the year, (indiscernible), Sheary, Rust, Kuhnhackl, you guys were in the American League. How much of those contributions really helped you guys down the stretch to get going?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, those guys were huge. I told our players after the game that one of the things I really loved about this game was it took every single man in the lineup to win, and everybody made a significant contribution to helping us win, regardless of how many minutes they played. Guys made key plays at key times, subtle plays -- plays on the wall, blocked shots, won face-offs, decisions with the puck, a good save, a big hit. There was a lot of those subtle plays throughout the course of the game that, I think, makes us the team that we are.
And I couldn't be happier for this group of players. I think that the young kids are bringing the energy and enthusiasm. The veteran guys, I think, have been great mentors for these kids, and I think that's why we have the dynamic we have.
I also told them that we're not finished yet. We've got to reenergize and be ready for the next round here. That's the most important one of all.

Q. Rust said afterwards that Bonino leaned to him on the bench and said, what's it like to be a Pittsburgh hero? At any point when you're coaching him in Wilkes-Barre or even when you woke up this morning, did you look at Bryan Rust and think this guy is going to give us two in the Eastern Conference so we can win 2-1?
COACH SULLIVAN: I'm not sure Rusty would have been the guy I would have picked, but certainly I love what he brings to this team and couldn't be happier for him for his effort and his contribution as far as how he's helped this team win for four or five months now. To see him get rewarded with a couple of goals is a thrill for all of us because he's such a great kid and he plays so hard.
So for me, once again, I know there's a lot of stories that surround this group, but the greatest story of all is the group itself. And for me, when you're part of something that's bigger than yourself, it's a special feeling, and I know these guys have it right now.

Q. Mike, I assume you would have taken 10-9 tonight, but is there something particularly gratifying about 2-1, holding a one-goal lead in the third period, doing all the execution things that you guys did, and really kind of locking that game down the way you did?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, I was real happy how we played with the lead. For me, the most important thing is we scored one more goal than they did, but I was real pleased with how we played with the lead in a tight game against a really good opponent. And as I said, to a man, I thought we continued to play the game that we've tried to play here for four or five months now, where we play to our strengths. And we've talked all year long about an identity and a certain way to play that gives us a chance to win. When we play that way, I think we're a hard team to play against.
I thought tonight might have been the most complete 60-minute effort that we've had.

Q. Mike, maybe like your third or fourth game here with the Penguins, you guys got beat pretty badly in this game by Boston. It looked pretty bad, losing streaks, guys were injured. After the game, you said, "I believe." I believe we can get this group together. What led you to have faith at that tough moment, and was it difficult to get the players to kind of believe at that time?
COACH SULLIVAN: I think you look around the room, and you see the talent that's in the room, and it's hard not to believe in them, and that's how I felt when I first took the team over.
In the first meeting we had with them, I said to the group that I think we have great players. Our challenge is to become a great team, and if we can do that, that's how you win in this league.
I think, to their credit, they have become a team in the true sense of the word. It starts with our leadership. It starts with our captain, with Sid, but it doesn't stop there. It goes to Geno and Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz and Matt Cohen and Eric Fehr and some of the veteran guys that have been around, and I think it funnels down the bench.
You know, I think, when you face the different adversities through the course of the year, it can only make you stronger when you overcome some of those challenges, and I said this earlier in the series, that I don't know that there's been a team in the league that's faced more adversity than this team since the start of training camp. These guys have found a way to have success, and they deserve a lot of credit for how hard they play and for their resilience through some difficult times.
I couldn't be more proud of them or happier for them, but having said that, as I said to them after the game, that we're not finished. We've got to reset our emotional level, and we've got to get geared up for the most important couple of weeks of our season.

Q. Coach, that was about as loud of a building as I've ever heard. What was that atmosphere like on the bench, and how do you guys feed off of that kind of energy from the crowd?
COACH SULLIVAN: I thought it was incredible. The third period, it was electric. It was the loudest that I've heard a building in all the years that I've been associated with this league, to the point where we had to scream to the players on who was up next.
I think this fan base here is just tremendous with the support that they give this group. I know our players are -- they're so appreciative for how supportive this community is for this team. And they're passionate about their team. They want to see them succeed, and I thought tonight it was on display. It's the most electric building I've seen.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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