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June 7, 2016

Mike Sullivan

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Practice Day

THE MODERATOR: We will take questions for Coach Sullivan.

Q. Mike, you've shown an ability during the playoffs to sit a player out for a game or two, or say this player can raise his game, then those players respond almost immediately. Do you have any sort of explanation for this sort of string of immediate response from your guys?
COACH SULLIVAN: No. I give our players a lot of credit. We believe in these guys. That's what I've said all along throughout the course of this post‑season. Every player goes through their ups and downs, times when they're at the top of their game, and times where it can be a bit of a challenge. I think that's just human nature. Our players are no different.
It never changes our opinions of these guys or how we feel about them. It's our responsibility as their coaching staff to try to help them through the process. But I've told these guys from day one that we believe in this group, we believe in our players, and we know when the stakes are high, they're going to be at their best.

Q. As a young guy going into an expansion team at 23, 24 years old, everybody talks about how competitive you are, how did you handle being on an expansion team knowing it was going to be a rough go?
COACH SULLIVAN: I think when you're a young player, you're trying to make your way into the NHL, you're excited to be there. My recollection of the opportunity that San Jose gave me to potentially play for their NHL team, I was excited about it.
It was an exciting time for the San Jose Sharks, being a new team in the league. To be one of those players on the ground floor, to try to help build something that would hopefully be a long‑lasting legacy for the San Jose Sharks, for me was exciting.
As a young player, I was just thrilled to have my opportunity to try to make my way into the NHL, which is a very difficult task for young hockey players.

Q. Mike, couple days off before the next game. A lot of anticipation for what hasn't happened in the city of Pittsburgh for a while. How do you keep your players' emotions in check with what could end up happening if you win it?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, I think I trust our leadership. We've got some guys in there that have this in perspective, that have been through similar experiences in the past. 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.
We have to try to do our best to ignore some of the noise surrounding the group. I think our players are well aware of it. They've been through it the whole post‑season. We've been through it a number of elimination games already. They've handled themselves the right way.
Our players are well aware, just based on their comments after the game last night, excited to be in the position we're in, but by no means do we think that we've accomplished what we've set out to do. We still have a lot of work ahead of us. 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.

Q. Before Game 7 against Tampa Bay, you said you would like the group to embrace that moment. Is that the same type of message you'll deliver going into this game?
COACH SULLIVAN: Yeah, it is. I think one of the things we've challenged our group with all year is just to try to stay in the moment and not get ahead of ourselves and look beyond the task at hand. But also not dwell on the past.
We try to take lessons from our experiences in the past, whether they be positive or negative. Certainly the most important game is the one right in front of us. That's where we have to have our focus. We need to have that laser focus for that one task at hand.
I really give our team a lot of credit because we've been able to stay in the moment for a long time now. I think that's one of the reasons why we've been able to win as many games as we have down the course of the regular season and throughout the post‑season, is just that short‑term focus that's so necessary in order to have success at this time of year.

Q. Coming into this series, I think a lot of media and outsiders gave the Sharks defense an advantage. What were we missing with this Pittsburgh group that has played so well?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, I think they've been an underestimated group all throughout the post‑season. These guys are playing extremely hard. They play the game the right way. I think they pride themselves on the contributions they make to our team. I think they believe in our team.
I think because of that, it's a team defense, not necessarily a group of individuals out there. I think that's what's helped each player throughout the course of this post‑season. They trust one another. They rely on one another. They support one another. Because of that, I think they bring out the best in each other.
We've certainly challenged these guys each and every day to be at their best. What I like about this group, and what I've really grown to admire about this group, is how close‑knit they've become through this journey. I think they really established a trust factor amongst each other that they're going to do their jobs.
They're not trying to do too much. They play within themselves. They trust their teammates are going to do their jobs as well. I think because of that, we've become a team defense that's very difficult to play against.

Q. Phil Kessel has been pretty consistent for you throughout the playoffs with his production and play. What has that meant to the team overall? No lulls for him really throughout the playoffs.
COACH SULLIVAN: No, there hasn't been. He's been a consistent performer for us, not just through the playoffs, but down through the end of the regular season when we were battling to put ourselves in a position for the playoffs.
Phil has been a huge part of this team's success in his contributions that he's made both offensively and defensively. He's part of a line with Bones and Haggy that has been a lot to handle for our opponents. I think they've scored timely goals for us. They've defended extremely hard when they played against opponent's top players.
I give Phil a lot of credit. I think his game has evolved into a complete two‑way game. We've asked him to improve in certain areas of his game away from the puck, in the battle areas, and he's embraced our message. He's been very receptive.
I think he's really gained a whole lot of admiration from his coaching staff and his teammates with how his game has evolved here in the second half of the season.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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