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May 30, 2016
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Game One
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Kris.
Q. Kris, what stands out to you about San Jose's group of forwards and how you're going to have to play against them?
KRIS LETANG: I think if you look throughout their lineup, the four lines brings a lot of speed, skill, especially that top line has bigger forwards that can protect the puck well. If you don't want to feed their transition game, you have to make sure you manage the puck throughout the neutral zone, try to keep it down in their zone.
Q. A little bit unusual you doing this, so I'll keep it simple. Are you playing tonight?
KRIS LETANG: Yup.
Q. You have no problems?
KRIS LETANG: Nope.
Q. Kris, how different is this trip to the Cup Final compared to '09? You were on a pairing with Mark Eaton.
KRIS LETANG: Yeah, it's a little bit different in that regard. Especially ice time situation I have to play in. But if I look at it as a group, it's a little bit similar. We had new addition that kind of boost our lineup, we had a coaching change during the year. It give us a spark.
Going there, we climbed a hard road. We faced a big rivalry team in the playoff. We had to face the Flyers when we won in '09, too.
Yeah, kind of the same road, but different road.
Q. It seems like no matter what six guys are on the blueline for you, you seem to be a cohesive group. Why do you think that is?
KRIS LETANG: I think it's more of a five‑man unit out there. When we play defense, everybody plays together, all five guys. All the forwards help out. Every time you step in, doesn't matter, you know your job, you know you got the support of different guys on the ice.
We always try to have good support, make sure if somebody gets beat, there's always somebody back him up. I think it's one of the key that we play a five‑man unit.
Q. Last round Tampa had Hedman, this round San Jose has Burns. Do you get competitive at all in terms of wanting to outperform the other team?
KRIS LETANG: He's an unbelievable D. Hedman was, too. I just focus on my game. My game is different. His game is different.
For sure, I want to be the best defenseman out there every night. But I have to stay the course, make sure I play my game, don't try to do too much.
Q. You've been a part of a lot of different teams. What is it about this one that's so special, makes you such a tight‑knit group?
KRIS LETANG: We have a good group of guys, guys that want to hang out together all the time. Sometimes you have groups that tend to be separated in different groups. But these guys, we got Phil, he wants to hang out with everybody, wants to have fun. It kind of brings everybody together when you have a guy that played that many games in the league.
As a team, for the rest, the speed of our team is just like we know that's our advantage. That's what we have to use. When we play into our system, that's why we get successful. Yeah, that's what's special about it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Questions for Coach Sullivan.
Q. Mike, you talked a little bit yesterday about your time with the Sharks. Did you save any memorabilia from your time with the Sharks? Do you have a favorite Cow Palace story? How many games do you think that Sharks team could beat this Penguins team in a seven‑game series?
COACH SULLIVAN: The team that I played on?
COACH SULLIVAN: I'm not sure that team would make it this far.
I do have memorabilia from that team. Obviously it was my first NHL experience playing. Those were always fond memories for a player, their first experience in the league. I have a fair amount of memorabilia from that team. Banners, pucks, my first goal, a signed autographed framed picture, team photo, things of that nature.
What I remember most about the Cow Palace is if you had the fortunate privilege to have the last shift of the period, then you had to walk up those stairs, it was like the green mile. I think they had to put chairs down at the bottom to give that last shift a chance to rest before they had to climb up the stairs to the locker room.
Certainly I had great memories of that team. It was a great bunch of guys, and my first experience in the league.
Q. Mike, can you describe the evolution of your comfort with Phil Kessel, how you deploy him, what you expect from him, how that's evolved since you took over?
COACH SULLIVAN: Sure. Phil and I have had a number of conversations over the course of the season. I was trying to define for him what our expectations are, how we might think he could best help us win.
Phil has been very receptive all year long. I think he's made great strides over the last couple of months in some of the areas of his game where we've asked him to improve and get better. I think he's made a commitment to play away from the puck. I think he's playing much smarter in his own end zone.
I think his offense speaks for itself. We try to stay out of his way when he has the puck. He certainly has way better instincts than the coaching staff does. That's what makes him the elite player that he is.
We tried to challenge him in his game away from the puck, trying to become the two‑way player that is so necessary to help us win playoff games. Phil, to his credit, has been very receptive.
I think he's made great strides, and I think our team has really been the great benefactor because he's had such an influence on the success that this team has enjoyed to this point.
Q. How does your preparation change when you're facing an opponent that you haven't seen a lot of, especially at this point of the year?
COACH SULLIVAN: It doesn't really change. The coaching staff just spends more time trying to familiarize ourselves with their tendencies, their personnel, their team concept, how they play.
But as far as the process is concerned, that really doesn't change. We'll certainly prepare our team for our opponent, what we're up against. As I've always said here all along, our main priority, our main goal has always been on our own team, trying to play the game a certain way.
So we spend a lot of time watching ourselves, areas of our game where we can improve, get better, reinforcing areas where we have success. So that's always been the main focus of this coaching staff with our team.
But certainly when you play a team like San Jose, that we haven't seen in a while, we spent more time trying to familiarize ourself with their tendencies.
Q. Geno started to pile up some points late in the Tampa series after going a stretch without. He says his best is yet to come. Anything you saw in the Tampa series that stood out to you as him elevating at all?
COACH SULLIVAN: I agree with him. I think his best is yet to come, too. He's a tremendous player. As that series went on, he started to play more of a straight‑ahead game. He played a north game. When he plays that way, he's really tough to challenge. When he challenging opponents with his speed and his power, obviously his puck skills are evident. But his speed and his power I think is really tough to handle.
I thought as that series went on he played more of a north game and a speed game. I think that also complements our team game as well. When he plays that way, I think he's a much more effective player individually and his line as a group.
Q. I know you prefer your guys stay out of the box. If San Jose does get those opportunities on the power play, what are the biggest challenges they present your guys?
COACH SULLIVAN: Certainly our discipline is going to be important. I think it was in the last series. We faced some pretty good power plays throughout the course of these playoffs.
So San Jose is another one of those teams that has a very good power play. Our discipline has to be there for us, as it has been throughout the course of the playoffs. I trust our guys in that regard.
Certainly they're a tough power play to defend because they have a lot of movement and they have a lot of threats. It's difficult to key on any one guy because they have so many different threats.
I think what we have to do is continue to understand why our penalty kill is successful, the pressure points and areas where we can put that power play under pressure and force them to have to make plays under duress. I think that's going to be an important aspect of our penalty kill.
I think it's been one of the strengths of our group, not just in the regular season, but the post‑season as well. Our penalty kill has consistently and quietly been a stabilizing aspect of our game and it's won a lot of games for us here over the last four months.
Q. You guys have put together a D core that's obviously focused on speed and puck moving. Do you worry about durability at all? Do you think you're more susceptible to some guys getting injured and out of your lineup than other teams?
COACH SULLIVAN: I don't think so. I think our ability to get back to pucks quickly, move the puck quickly, is one of the advantages, one of the strengths that we have.
I think we have a very courageous defense group. They go back for pucks, they take hits when they have to to make plays. That's an important element of our team concept in coming out of our end zone.
I think it's just the nature of today's game. It's difficult to provide any sort of interference for a forecheck. So defensemen have to take hits. I think we've got a very brave group. They go back for pucks, they take hits to make plays.
I think their mobility a lot of times gives them an ability to avoid body checks or only get a partial check and not have to bear the brunt of the full force. When we pass and move, I think that's when we're at our best.
So I don't think we're any more susceptible than any other group.
Q. Mike, the Rust, Malkin, Kunitz line, what prompted you to put those three together? Are you surprised how the three of them have gelled together as quickly as they did?
COACH SULLIVAN: We've moved different parts around Sid and Geno over the last two months to try to create the balance that we're looking for and also complement both Sid and Geno with their strengths and how they play. We've moved different people around those guys. Quite honestly, we'll probably continue to do that, depending on how the series goes.
But, you know, when we put Rusty on that right side with Geno and Kuny, we like the line. We thought it had a lot of speed. We thought they were hard to play against. Rusty and Kuny are very responsible players at both ends of the rink. I think they can track pucks down and pursue pucks and help Geno get the puck back. He obviously is one of the premier play‑makers in the league and just a great offensive player.
That line we liked over the last few games. They've really provided a lot of offense for us, but also provided some stability in our D zone as well just because of the skill sets that we think are complementary.
Certainly when we put those guys together, we really liked what we saw.
Q. How confident are you that Letang can log his usual number of minutes tonight even though he missed practice today and yesterday?
COACH SULLIVAN: Very confident.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports