Skip to main content
Stanley Cup Final

Veteran Cullen plays significant role in Penguins run

Forward wins second Stanley Cup of career after almost calling it quits before season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

SAN JOSE -- One of Matt Cullen's kids was whacking him in the leg with a Pittsburgh Penguins' flag. The other two were pretend sword-fighting with their flags.

"It doesn't get any better," Cullen said as he was getting smacked in the leg by his youngest son Joey. "You can't beat it. Nothing better. Words can't describe it."

Ten years ago, when Cullen, 39, won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, his wife, Bridget, was pregnant with their oldest son, Brooks. Sunday at SAP Center, after the Penguins Stanley Cup-clinching 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks, his whole clan was on the ice with him.

There were Brooks, Wyatt and Joey hanging around their dad. This was the moment he had dreamed of.

Video: Matt Cullen On ice interview after the win

Cullen had no clue it would come true when he signed a one-year contract with the Penguins on Aug. 6, but he did have some hope. That's why he picked up the phone when Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford called him to gauge his interest in coming to Pittsburgh.

Cullen was coming off a so-so season with the Nashville Predators. He had seven goals and 25 points in 62 games, another two points in six Stanley Cup Playoff games. The Predators were eliminated in the first round by the Chicago Blackhawks.

He wondered if he had reached the end of the road, if a long career that started in 1997 and took him through seven organizations was coming to an end. He was almost at peace with it too.

"I really expected that it was probably it," Cullen said. "I was preparing just in case if something really special came up, and when I got that call from Jim, it was that something special. I never could have imagined it would have worked out like this, but I'm awfully, awfully happy."

Cullen won with Rutherford in Carolina in 2006, scoring 25 goals in the regular season and 18 points in 25 playoff games. He signed a four-year contract with the Rangers after that Cup run, but Rutherford brought him to Raleigh, N.C. in a trade after the 2006-07 season.

Rutherford called him this past offseason because he knew he needed a player like him.

"I know him inside out," Rutherford said.

Cullen signed with the Penguins because he trusted Rutherford's judgment after seeing him acquire Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr in July.

"I had seen the moves he made in the summer and I have a pretty good relationship with Jim," Cullen said. "I know he's committed to winning. It was a cool opportunity for me. It wasn't something I had to think about for a long time."

Rutherford got more than he thought he ever would from Cullen. Yes, he brought the character that Rutherford thinks so highly of, but Cullen also brought a revamped offensive game.

"He scored 16 goals, which I never would have guessed," Rutherford said. "I would have been happy with four or five from him. I brought him in to give us good balance, but he scored some key goals for us during the season at important times."

It didn't stop in the playoffs. Cullen was a huge reason why the Penguins defeated the Rangers in five games in the first round. He scored the game-winning goals in Games 3 and 5.

"I know what I was brought here to do," Cullen said. "I was fortunate to get some opportunity to play with some good guys, but I was fortunate to find a good role where I felt like I could help the team. Truthfully, when you come to a team like this you just want to be a piece of it, a part of it and help. I found a pretty good role with some good players and I helped."

More than he even knows.

"He's had a huge impact," Fehr said. "Everybody in the room loves the guy. He's brought a positive attitude toward the room. He's not really a rah-rah guy. He's not standing up having big speeches, but he knows the time and the place to make some comments and make sure that the guys are prepared. Even the young guys feel comfortable talking to him about stuff. That's great when you have a guy that can come in and make such a big difference in the room."

Speaking of the young guys, 24-year-old rookie left wing Conor Sheary said Cullen was great to him.

"You can talk to him any time you want," Sheary said. "He's always open to giving you insight. If you're working on stuff in practice or whatever it may be, he's been really good like that."

Sheary said he used Cullen as motivation.

"It's awesome and it's encouraging for a young guy to see you may have the opportunity to play as long as he has," Sheary said. "If you see his work ethic you would know why he's still playing."

Cullen still has to make up his mind if he wants to keep playing.

"I don't know. I don't know," he said. "We're going to sit down at home. I don't know. This is awesome. You can't top this, but we'll just think about it a little bit. I just want to soak it all in."

That wasn't hard Sunday. His kids were around him, playing around, having a blast. The Stanley Cup was nearby. It was his again, 10 years later.

"I felt really fortunate to be a part of that first one, it was a special group, a special season and you just don't get those kind of opportunities very often," Cullen said. "I would have been really happy with the career I had. I've been really fortunate to play as long as I have. Now to get this, I couldn't ask for something more than this."

View More