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May 29, 2017

Mike Sullivan

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Postgame

Pittsburgh - 5, Nashville - 3

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.

Q. Mike, what did you see that led to the prolonged absence of a shot on goal tonight? What do you need to do better to fix that?
MIKE SULLIVAN: We weren't very good. You know, we weren't very good. So when you're playing a team like Nashville that has a balanced attack, you've got to have some pushback. I don't think in the second period we had any pushback.

It seemed like, you know, we had a discussion in between periods about staying on our toes, playing the game the right way, making sure that we don't try to sit on the lead or defend the lead, that we try to go out and get the next goal.

This team usually, for the most part, is pretty good at making sure that we're continuing to play the game the right way. Tonight wasn't the case. We just weren't very good.

Q. Jake and Conor are two young guys that have gone through some rough stretches in these playoffs. How nice was it to see them get rewarded with a couple goals?
MIKE SULLIVAN: It's great for both of them. They're both such important parts of our team. We rely on these guys to help us offensively. Both of them have great offensive instincts, regardless of where we put them in the lineup, what lines they're on. We know they have the ability to generate offense for us.

So for them to both score tonight, I hope it will be a boost of confidence for both of them. But certainly we were pleased.

Q. Mike, the Coach's Challenge in the first period, was that another Andy Saucier special? If it's a good omen for things to come, does he get a statue maybe at the end of the season?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, maybe they'll have a sandwich named after him or sauce or something, I don't know. But he does a great job. Andy does a great job for us. He's smart. I think he has a really good eye for some of the challenges versus the no challenges. Those timeouts are really important.

We don't want to use that challenge frivolously. We're trying to be calculated about it. We've sat as a coaching staff at the beginning of the season and we discussed the criteria so we're all on the same page on when and how we're going to make those challenges.

But Sauce does a terrific job for us.

Q. Mike, one thing that Sid pointed to for that long stretch without a shot on goal, he was critical of the team not winning puck battles, maybe not being as strong on the puck as they normally are. Is that an opinion you share as well? Was it more about that than Nashville gumming you up at the redline or the blueline?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Yeah, I would agree with him. I didn't think we were stiff enough in the battle areas as far as when we were defending. We've got to get into people's bodies, we've got to hit and stick, we've got to stay engaged. It seemed like we were coming off of checks and giving them some time and space with a little bit of separation.

We ended up with extended time in our end zone where we had opportunities where, if we played a little bit stiffer, we can create separation from the puck and give our guys an opportunity to win a puck battle.

I would agree with Sid's assessment. So much of this game boils down to those thankless jobs. It's about winning puck battles along the walls, gaining lines, gaining zones. That's how you control territory.

If you're losing your fair share of those, it's hard to get the puck back. So I know that's an area where this team prides itself in. We weren't as good as we normally are at it. Our players are well aware of it.

What I love about our group is, we got a favorable result tonight, but we know that we need to be much better in order to continue to get to where we want to go. None of us in our dressing room are fooled by the score tonight. I think that's an important takeaway. But I think we've got a mature group and we've got great leadership and they understand it.

Q. Mike, Jake scored nine goals in your first 11 or so games, then had none in the last eight. What did you see in terms of his game, how it was trending? What did you do to help him through that?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I think he's a first-year player coming out of college. So first and foremost, he's not used to playing the amount of games that we're playing. That's an adjustment in and of itself.

He's played a lot of really good hockey for us. He was playing heavy minutes. When you're playing on Sid's line, there's obviously an expectation to produce offensively.

He's done a terrific job for us. We felt in the last series that he might have been wearing down a little bit. The coaching staff was trying to be proactive and trying to find ways to maybe cut his minutes a little bit so that we would get more productive minutes from him. Quite honestly, to take a little bit of pressure off him. But by no means did we lose faith. We know he's a good player. He's a high-quality player.

Jake and I have had a few discussions here over the last week about just the coaches' assessment, trying to help him work through some of the challenges, like we do with all of our players.

He's a real good player. He gets a great goal for us tonight. I think that's an indication of the type of player that he is and his capability. But certainly I think he's a guy that we know we can rely on here to help us win games.

Q. Mike, a couple of your forwards tonight mentioned how Nashville's defensemen are really in your face. They made it really difficult to put the puck in, to go get it. Is that just a decision-making process that they have to adjust to or is it more physicality like you were alluding to?
MIKE SULLIVAN: I think you've got to give Nashville credit. They have a very good defense core. They get good gaps. They're a mobile group. I think their gaps are tight.

But I also think that our team can be a whole lot better in its execution, in its anticipation, putting pucks to areas, and recognizing where the ice is to play on. If their gaps are tight, we might have to put pucks behind them and get in foot races. If their gaps aren't tight, those are opportunities for us to keep the puck and maybe make a play.

I think it starts with recognition skills and then it goes from there. For me, it's more a function of our overall group just being ready and bringing a certain level of execution to the table.

As a group tonight, we weren't as good as I think our own expectations are. I think all of our players are very good at self-assessing. So it's an opportunity for us to learn from it, move by it, make sure we respond the right way.

Q. I'm wondering how you feel when you leave the rink after a game like this. Are you more concerned about the way you played or are you more encouraged by the fact you played the way you did and still came away with a victory?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I think our coaching staff, we try to be more focused on the process, more so than the result. Obviously at this time of year, the results are really important.

We're pleased, you know, to get the result that we got. We got some big plays at key times from players in order to win this game. I don't want to discount that because we had kind of a sleepy start for the first six or seven minutes, but then I thought our team really responded.

The second half of that first period I thought was our best hockey, and we scored three goals.

I think we got some big plays from players at key times. I don't want to discount that. I think that's an important aspect of winning games. I think our team has that ability.

But we're also well aware of how the game was played out there. We know that we have to be better, that we got outplayed in a lot of aspects of the game for stretches of time, and our expectation is higher for ourselves.

In some ways are we certainly pleased with the result? Yes. But also, I think we trust the leadership of the group that we have, that they get it. They understand. They know we weren't at our best. We had that discussion after the game.

This is something we'll learn from and we'll try to make sure that we respond the right way for Game 2.


FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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