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June 6, 2016

Mike Sullivan

San Jose, California: Game Four

Pittsburgh – 3
San Jose ‑ 1

Q. You haven't played with a deficit yet this series. How do you do that in the Stanley Cup Final?
COACH SULLIVAN: That's a good question. I don't know. I give our players a lot of credit. I think we've had pretty good starts. I think everybody's been focused right from the drop of the puck, trying to gain momentum right away.
Anytime you can score the first goal in a game, it really increases your chances. I think our guys are just focused on trying to play the game the right way. When the opportunities present themselves, we're trying to take advantage of them.
I was saying to the coaching staff after the game, this is the hardest hockey that I've witnessed in all the years I've been associated with this league just as far as how hard both teams have to work for their ice out there. Both teams defend extremely hard. You've got to work for every inch of ice.
It's been really impressive to watch.

Q. You said before the game, if Geno kept playing the game the right way, you truly believed he'd break through, get on the scoreboard. Your thoughts on his game tonight.
COACH SULLIVAN: I thought he was really good, not just because he got on the score sheet. Obviously that's great for him, it's great for us. But I thought his overall game was really good. He played at both ends of the rink. When he plays that way, he's so hard to defend.
It seems like the puck follows him around. I just thought he had one of his strongest games of the playoffs at an important time for us.

Q. Phil Kessel and that line has been seeing a lot of Brent Burns and Paul Martin. What did you think of his game tonight? That's a tough matchup with them.
COACH SULLIVAN: Yeah, it is. He's a good player. I love Phil's overall game. Not just tonight, I've liked it through this whole playoffs.
Phil's game right now, when you watch him play, for me, when I watch him play, I say to myself, He's committed, he's committed to helping us win. He's playing at both ends of the rink. He's such a scoring threat offensively.
You see, I think, sometimes his passing ability flies under the radar. He makes a great play on the power play goal that Geno gets. It's a terrific pass. He passes the puck as well as he can score.
What really impresses me about Phil is just his commitment away from the puck, the play in his own end zone. The wall play that he's participating in. He's strong on the puck. He's playing the game the right way now.
For me, it's impressive to watch because his complete game is, I think, what helps that line be as effective as it's been throughout the course of the playoffs.

Q. On the first goal, Malkin was at the end of his shift, a lot of players might have dumped it in. He held onto the puck, made a pass to Kessel. Is that what you were emphasizing with him? Did you need to?
COACH SULLIVAN: No. We just talked to Geno about not forcing plays, taking what the game gives you, being strong on the puck, not passing up an opportunity to shoot when he gets inside the dots. We're trying to give him some common sense advice on how to simplify your game and be effective.
He's such an instinctive player, when he plays the game the right way and he doesn't force things, he sees the plays that he needs to make. I think he's very similar to Kris Letang in that regard. They're well‑intentioned because they want to help the team win. They do too much.
When they play within themselves, take what the game gives them, when the play is not there to be made, they make simple plays, that's when we, as a group, become more difficult to play against. We don't feed our opponent's transition game. We force them to have to play goal line to goal line. That, for me, is playoff hockey.
Those guys, as talented as they are, when they play that way, when the opportunities present themselves to make plays, they see them and do it. I thought that's what both of them did tonight, but Geno in particular.

Q. Some of the things that you just said about Phil Kessel, I'm not sure I've ever heard any coach ever say about him. What did you do to get him to buy in, to play the way he's playing now?
COACH SULLIVAN: I didn't do anything. For me, Phil deserves the credit for his contribution to helping this team win. Him and I have had conversations throughout the course of the season.
We have a very transparent relationship. I try to challenge him in areas of his game where we think he can improve, get better, help our team win. Those are the types of conversations that I've had with him over the last four or five months.
I think Phil has made a complete commitment to this team. We don't get to where we're at if Phil doesn't play the type of hockey that he's played here throughout the course of this playoffs. He has been one terrific player for us. He scores big goals. His offense speaks for itself. He's dangerous on the power play. He's dangerous off the rush.
But I think what his teammates admire and respect, what his coaching staff certainly does, is his commitment away from the puck and to play at both ends of the rink.
He's a complete player right now. When he plays that way, he's one of the more elite players in the league, in our opinion.

Q. You were talking earlier about how difficult it is to score. It seems like it's never been more difficult for the so‑called stars to score. Why do you think that is? The rosters are better top to bottom now than maybe they were five or six years ago? Is the coaching different? Why is that?
COACH SULLIVAN: I think the deeper you get in the playoffs, the better the teams are, the deeper they are, and the harder they defend. As talented as both of these teams are offensively, this is something we've said to our team all year long, it doesn't matter how many goals we score, we have to learn how to defend. We have to learn how to make a commitment to keeping the puck out of our net.
I know this team can score. When we start making a commitment to playing away from the puck, keeping the puck out of our net, now we become a team that's, in our opinion, a contender.
So the deeper that teams go in the playoffs...
I don't think teams get this far if they don't have the ability to defend. I think the top players get the most attention from probably the better defenders.
It doesn't surprise me that goals are hard to come by because both teams are making a sincere commitment to playing away from the puck. When I say I think it's the hardest hockey that I've witnessed in this league, it seems like both teams have to fight for every inch out there. That's just the type of hockey that it's become.
It's not an easy environment. It's hard hockey. I think both teams have played extremely hard. We certainly have a lot of respect for San Jose and how good they are. But we couldn't be more proud of our players and the way we're playing.
Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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