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Steady Bylsma stays committed to his system

Friday, 05.15.2009 / 2:25 PM / Conference Finals: Pittsburgh vs. Carolina

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

"It's not a secret. But I guess if you're going to be passionate about something in life, you better believe in it. When you can believe it and you can commit to it, you have a chance to do something special."
-- Dan Bylsma

If you've read stories about Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, or listened to him talk during Pittsburgh's playoff run, the message he sends about his team and his game plan are remarkably similar.

And there's a reason for that. Bylsma is steadfast in his beliefs and so confident that his way is the best way for his team that nothing, no matter the situation, can derail him.

* Not being down 3-0 on the scoreboard in Game 6 of the first round on the road.
* Not being down 2-0 in games in a second-round series.
* And not even his first Game 7 as a coach, on the road.

"I'm a believer that there are adjustments that need to be made throughout the game, and you don't just make them in Game 7," Bylsma said. "If you make them just in the playoffs or just when it heats up, players begin to question it. ... While there's different facets to it, we know how we're going to play, we believe in the way we play, and that doesn't change from game to game, doesn't change in situations where you get down by two games in a series. You continue try to play the way you believe in. Players know what it is and that's a strength of our team."

Bylsma said he's learned from every coach he's played under, from college at Bowling Green through a journeyman pro career that took him through 11 stops in four leagues over 12 professional seasons. He participated in three Game 7s during his NHL career, including the decisive game of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final for Anaheim, so there's little he hasn't experienced.

"Whatever you do, no matter how you do it, you better believe in it," Bylsma said. "And when you believe in it, you have a chance to actually do something. I'm not convinced this is the only way to play hockey or other coaches aren't saying or doing similar things. It's not a secret. But I guess if you're going to be passionate about something in life, you better believe in it. When you can believe it and you can commit to it, you have a chance to do something special."

What the Penguins have done under Bylsma is more than just special. Taking over Feb. 15, he strapped a rocket to his team, which flew from 10th in the Eastern Conference to fourth on the last day of the season. And the climb now has reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bylsma deflects the credit to his players, but as the only first-year coach still alive in the postseason, he must be doing something right.

"You try to spawn that in your team, try to grow that, try to nurture that," Bylsma said. "When the players believe in it, you believe in it; you can respond to adversity, you can respond to being a goal down. You have the ability to sow the seeds of being able to do something special. Everyone has to take ownership in that. You have to sell it, believe in it, you have to work on it.

"There're no secrets here. It's not something that we have that other people don't have a right to. But I think you have to have a belief in what you are doing, and when you have that belief, it's a big part of doing something extremely difficult against a good team, against good players. That's what you try to bring to the table as a team and as a coach."

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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