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Penguins coach Sullivan focused on present

Commitment to short-term has fueled Pittsburgh's ascent

by By Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH-- Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan stresses "the past is the past."

That won't change in the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Rangers beginning with Game 1 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; USA, TVA Sports, SN, ROOT, MSG).

Since replacing Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, Sullivan has led Pittsburgh to a 33-16-5 record and second place in the Metropolitan Division. Before losing 3-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, the Penguins won 14 of their previous 15 games to surge past the Rangers in the division and set up a third Stanley Cup Playoff series between the rivals in the past three years.

"One of the things that I love about this group that we have is their commitment to the short-term focus of the game in front of them," Sullivan said. "We certainly learn from our experiences in the past, but we don't dwell on them and we don't get ahead of ourselves. And we make sure that we maintain that necessary short-term focus and we use all of our energy and our resources to try to win that game right in front of us.

"That's been our approach now for four or five months since I've been here and I think that's what our focus is going to continue to be."

To these Penguins, it doesn't matter that they failed to score more than one goal four times in a five-game series loss to against the Rangers a year ago. It doesn't matter that Pittsburgh surrendered a 3-1 series lead to lose in seven games the previous year.

The Penguins also don't seem to care about their success against the Rangers this season, winning three of four games. According to captain Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh won't take anything away from its season series against New York.

"It doesn't really matter," Crosby said. "I think you find what your strengths are and what made you successful, and the things you need to clean up, but none of that means anything now. We have to go out there and win four games."

Video: PIT@WSH: Crosby nets breakaway for slick GWG in OT

Sullivan complimented Pittsburgh's resilience that has been on display recently, including on April 5 when they dug a 3-0 hole before winning 5-3 against the Ottawa Senators. The ability to climb back can be attributed to playing the game the right way, another facet Sullivan has preached during his tenure in Pittsburgh.

"We've tried to define that, what that means," Sullivan said. "I think when you look at our group, when we're at our best, we use that phrase 'We play the game the right way.' I think it always starts with the decision we make with the puck and we don't become a high-risk team, but we become a calculated team."

Part of that stems from utilizing the Penguins' speed effectively. Pittsburgh now attempts to get the puck up ice quickly and shoots into the crease frequently.

That philosophy didn't immediately result in wins. The Penguins lost each of their first four games under Sullivan despite averaging more than 30 shots.

Eventually, Pittsburgh adjusted to the new style and began crowding the net front, resulting in screens, deflections and rebounds leading to goals. The Penguins seemed to reach their offensive peak down the stretch when they scored at least five regulation goals in four consecutive games from March 31-April 5.

"We try to play fast and that's been really good for us the past two months," forward Patric Hornqvist said. "We always try to play with a high pace and sometimes we don't have to carry the puck. We chip it in and go and get it. We have fast forwards and our D has been really good joining the rush. I think that makes it hard to defend."

In their past two games, the Penguins outscored the Rangers 8-5. That is of no importance to Pittsburgh, however, and neither is its past playoff struggles.

The Penguins are solely focused on winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2009.

"This is a team that we've had great battles with the last couple years, and this year, and we're looking forward to getting ready to play on Wednesday," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "I think the ultimate goal for guys in this room is to play our best hockey and to win the Stanley Cup. We're going to have to go through some really good teams and it starts with the Rangers."

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