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May 25, 2017

Mike Sullivan

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Postgame

Pittsburgh-3, Ottawa-2

Q. Mike, with the power plays being at such a premium, how proud were you of your power play unit and happy were you with that effort to score and score so quickly with the one opportunity you got?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Our power play has won a lot of games for us throughout the course of the regular season and through the playoffs. They've been a very consistent group throughout the course of this playoffs. Even when they don't score, they build momentum for our team. So power plays are few and far between in the playoffs. And the deeper you go, the less you get. At least that's what it seems to be. When you have the opportunities and you can capitalize, like our group did tonight, it helps your team win games.

It's obviously a timely goal for us. It gave our team a big boost. I thought they executed really well.

These guys, they had a game plan going in, and they're great players. They just -- when they -- when they're committed to the thankless jobs on the power play puck retrievals, executing on the entry, the timing on the breakouts, the face-offs, all of those things, the little things that I think the rest of the power play falls in line for them because they see the plays that are there, and they make them. They're elite players.

So when the plays are there, they make them on their instincts. When we're committed to do the thankless jobs that are so important helping you sustain zone time and helping you gain entry into the zone, winning face-offs, things of that nature, that's when the power play is at its best. Everything else seems to fall into place after that.

Q. Mike, how difficult did Ottawa make it in this series mentally from the way they play and have to go against that? Also, what do you think was the key for you guys to advance in the series?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, first, I'd like to congratulate Ottawa on a tremendous year and a great series. This was a hard fought series. We knew it was going to be a hard fought series going in. This is a really good team. They're not here by accident. They're a really good team. They're hard to play against. They have an identity, and they play to it. I think that's what -- how they found their success. So I congratulate them on a great series and a great year.

I am proud of our group for the resilience that they showed throughout the course of this series because I think, when our team plays a counterattack-type team, where they have numbers back all the time and they force you to have to chip pucks in and put pucks into space as opposed to carrying through the neutral zone, I think it challenges our group, and I've said this on a number of occasions.

So it takes a certain discipline on our part to make sure that we manage the puck the right way between the blue lines, and I think this series tested our group in that regard.

So I couldn't be more proud of our team for just the stick-to-itiveness, just the staying with it. I thought tonight -- our last four games in this series for me, we really found our game. We're skating. We're trying to play a speed game. We're on the puck. I think our defense starts in the offensive zone, just with our puck pursuit and playing in people's faces and hanging on to pucks in that offensive zone. I think that's when our team is at its best.

So I think the last four games of this series, I think our team has really found its stride, but certainly every game was a nail biter. It was just -- and I give credit to Ottawa for that. They defend extremely hard. They got timely saves, and they're an opportunistic group in the sense they've got some guys on their roster that can score. So they don't need a lot of chances, and they can score goals. That's what they did tonight as an example of it.

But I couldn't be more proud of our group of players for just staying with it, not losing their patience, not allowing frustration or any of that sort of mental aspect to get in the way of us trying to win games.

We talk a lot about being a team that doesn't beat itself, and that's one of the easiest ways we can do it, and I think our team has grown so much in my tenure here. At least I've watched this group -- and I always give credit to the leadership group. I think the leaders lead the charge there. We've got a great group of veteran players that just understand it, and they want to win.

Q. Mike, what's your take on the return of Justin Schultz in particular and the puck management by your defense in general?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I think Justin is an important part of our blue line. He makes a great play in the power play. It's a difference in the game. So I think that play, in and of itself, is an indication of the impact he has on our team and our ability to win games. But it doesn't just stop there on the power play.

He's a good puck mover. He's a mobile guy. He gets back to pucks. He sees the ice well. He can go tape to tape when the opportunities are there. So he helps our transition game.

And I thought our defensemen as a group did a really good job, and that's an important element of our game that I think a lot of times gets overlooked because of maybe some of the star power we have up front.

But this group of defensemen is vitally important to the success that this team is able to enjoy to this point, and they're going to have to continue to play that way for us to continue to have success.

I've said on a number of occasions that this group of defensemen are the unsung heroes of this team, and that's what I mean when I say that. They don't get a lot of accolades. They don't show up on ESPN highlight reels, but they just quietly do a decent job back there as far as helping us get out of our end zone, managing the puck the right way, and defending hard when we need them to defend.

Q. Kunitz and Sheary played a good deal with Sid tonight, a couple of guys who haven't produced a lot of points lately. What did you see from them that caused you to be confident putting them next to him?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, we really liked their game. During the first part of the game, I would double shift Sid with that group, that pair of wings, and that was part of the game plan going in when we decided to put Conor in the lineup. I felt like it gave us four lines that had the ability to score, that had the ability to possess the puck. And if I wanted to double shift Sid or Geno, I had the ability to do that with that group.

Cully kills penalties for us. He takes a lot of defensive zone face-offs for us, so we utilize Cully in a lot of different capacities, which allows me the opportunity to move Sid or Geno into that spot. And I don't think we miss a beat.

So when -- I thought in the first part of the game, some of Sid's best shifts are with Kuni and Conor. After two periods, the coaching staff talked, and we thought it was the right thing to do to make that switch. So we did. And then moving forward, we tried to utilize the bench as best we could because we felt like we had four lines that we could put on the ice.

I think the depth of this team is the strength of this team. When we're able to get four lines involved, I think -- especially when you go into a game that goes into double overtime -- you have the ability to manage the minutes the right way, and I think we were able to keep some of the minutes down for a lot of our guys, which allowed us to sustain the attack.

Q. Mike, has this been as hard as it seemed just to get back to this point? Has it been harder than last year and kind of make you appreciate how hard it is just to try to repeat?
MIKE SULLIVAN: It's been hard. It's been a hard -- it's been a really hard playoffs, and I give this group of players so much credit. They find ways to win, and we're not perfect on some nights by any stretch. But this group of players has a will to win as a group more so than any other group I've been around.

And once again, I think it starts with the leadership group we have. We've got a group of veteran players. I think they have a certain perspective that they understand the opportunity to play this deep and compete for the Stanley Cup doesn't come around every year. And when it does, when a team like ours puts itself in the position like we have, we have to maximize this opportunity. It's a great opportunity. And our veteran guys know it. They've been around the game a long time, and they understand when they have something special, and we believe we have that with the chemistry of this team. We did it last year, and we're finding ways to do it again this year.

But it's hard to win. This is the hardest trophy in sports, in my mind. It's a war of attrition. And I don't think any team has endured more injuries than this group of players has endured, and we continue to find ways to win.

So I can't say enough about the players that we have. They are a privilege to coach, and I mean that in the most sincere way.

Q. Mike, was there any challenge so far in the postseason that you could attribute directly to playing as long as you did last year? And that understanding that you just referenced, was that maybe solidified by maybe going as far as you did last year?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, obviously, this group of players has played a lot of hockey. But I think -- my sense when I'm around them, I think it fuels their fire to want to win again. These guys, they -- I think the fact that they were able to win last year and now put this team in a position to do it again, I think just ignites the fire because of the perspective that they have. They understand how hard it is.

And this team has found ways to win all year long regardless of who's in the lineup. It's the next man up mentality, and these guys just -- they never look for excuses, and the expectation is high all the time. It's no higher than within our dressing room. So that's what I love about this group is that they've got a high standard, and they hold each other accountable.

So as a coaching staff, it makes our job a little bit easier. I think the leadership on this team has shown so much will to win it becomes contagious throughout our group. I don't think any one of them take it for granted. I think they understand how difficult it is to get to the point we're at, and they look at this as a great opportunity to continue to write their story, and they're doing a terrific job.

Q. Mike, when you showed up here a year and a half ago, this was a group that had a reputation for not being mentally tough, whether it be temperamental outbursts on the ice or losing Game 7s at home, which had become regular. Did you feel that was something you needed to address when you came to Pittsburgh? If so, how did you go about it?
MIKE SULLIVAN: My experience being around this group of players is not that. I think -- you know, one of the things that I tried to do when I first took the team over was to create a certain resilience. That's so important to winning in pro sports.

So we talk about it a lot, and we challenge them almost daily to be able to overcome some of the adversities that this league and this game is going to present because inevitably it's going to come. It doesn't discriminate. Every team goes through them.

So I believe -- or we believe as a coaching staff that your ability to react to those things is so vitally important to your chance for success. So that's a conversation that we have a lot with our team, in particular, our veteran leadership group. But I think this group has a maturity about them and a certain perspective on the game that allows them to exhibit the resilience that they do. I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team.

I think this game tonight is a perfect example. We thought we had a strong game. We felt like we were controlling territory, we were controlling the shot clock, we were controlling scoring chances. We felt like this has been the case for a handful of games now, and yet we're in close games every single night. Some of them, we ended up on the wrong side of the score. So that in and of itself, I think, will test an individual and a team's resolve.

So I give so much credit to our players for just that stick-to-itiveness, that ability to stay the course regardless of what the noise is going on around the group. So I believe it's the strength of this team.

Q. Mike, you've hit on it already, but what did you learn in terms of just the maturation and tenacity of this defensive unit, just in this series alone, based on the adversity that they were really up against?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I think our defense corps is a resilient bunch. They get knocked down, and they get up, and they get back in the fight. I think that's what I love about them.

As I said, we make mistakes. We're not perfect. But the mistakes we make, they're mistakes of enthusiasm because we're trying. We've got a group of triers back there, and we love them for that reason. As I said, we don't always make the perfect play. We're not always going to see it the right way. We don't always make the perfect pass. But our competitive spirit back there, it's inspiring, I think. I know that our forwards and the rest of our team are appreciative of that. So we're not getting to the point where we're at, where we're competing for a Stanley Cup, if it wasn't for this group of defensemen finding ways to help this team win.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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