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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins' Sheary may celebrate birthday with Cup win

Pittsburgh can hoist trophy with victory against Sharks in Game 5

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Conor Sheary is used to the madness by now, so much so that on Wednesday morning he seemed to be getting a kick out of it.

The Pittsburgh Penguins rookie forward was wedged into his seat inside the dressing room at the team's practice facility, looking to his right into a crush of media that surely had become the world's largest human horseshoe around Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

The overflow of bodies spilled into Sheary's space, which was remarkable, even comical, because Crosby's seat isn't even adjacent to his; it's two over, with Oskar Sundqvist's vacant spot a buffer between them.

"Almost every day there's a scrum around Sid," Sheary said. "But that's expected. I'm used to it."

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm2: Sheary wins game off Letang's feed

It was Sheary's 24th birthday Wednesday, the eve of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 3-1.

For obvious reasons, plans to celebrate were on hold, and he certainly was not thinking aloud about the possibility of marking his two dozen years by having a sip of champagne from a large silver chalice at some point in the next few days.

"I've never played on my birthday or the day after it," Sheary said, his season now having pushed into the second week of June. "My first year in the American Hockey League (2013-14), our last game was [June 3]. That was the latest I've played. By now, usually, I'd be back in training for next season. You take two or three weeks off at the end of the season to kind of relax for a bit, try to get healthy, then get right back at it."

Sheary had six goals and five assists in 15 playoff games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL that 2013-14 season, then five goals and seven assists in eight playoff games for the team last season.

Heading into Game 5 of the Cup Final against the Sharks on Thursday, the native of Winchester, Mass., has four goals and five assists in 21 playoff games for the Penguins, none bigger than his overtime winner in Game 2 of the Cup Final on June 1.

That was just one of a handful of pinch-me moments Sheary has experienced during this postseason, more felt by the day.

"There have been a lot of them," he said, shuffling to his left as the Crosby scrum continued to expand. "With all the things that have happened this entire playoffs … to make it this far and be in the Stanley Cup Final, you kind of have to take a step back and take a deep breath and realize where you're at. But we're just trying to live in the moment and embrace this as much as we can.

"I think after the season you'll sit back and realize what you've been through. But right now, it's just enjoy it while it's here, don't think too much about it, and just go out and play."

To Sheary, the Stanley Cup is more a concept than a trophy. He said the closest he's been to it was at TD Garden on June 24, 2013, when the Chicago Blackhawks pressed the Cup overhead after defeating the Boston Bruins in six games.

So don't ask Sheary to speak in detail about the Cup, its design, the bumps and ridges and hundreds of names tapped into its silver bands.

"I haven't been even close enough to get a good look at it," he said. "It's just unique compared to other trophies. The fact that it's so old and has been around for so long, to see all those names on it … to get your name on there would be pretty special."

Sheary has, however, had his photo taken with the Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded to the Penguins as Eastern Conference champion on May 26, describing that moment as "pretty cool."

To call this season a whirlwind for the undrafted wing would be to greatly underestimate the fact.

He had 36 points (seven goals, 29 assists) in 30 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and then Mike Sullivan, his coach, was promoted to the NHL Penguins on Dec. 12 to succeed Mike Johnston.

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm1: Sheary doubles the lead with a wrister

Sheary was called up three days later and played 44 regular-season games, scoring seven goals and assisting on three. He has navigated a steep postseason learning curve, averaging 13:55 high-stakes minutes per game, but has handled it with a veteran's poise.

No matter the result Thursday, or of a Game 6 or a Game 7 if necessary, Sheary has tried to keep his eyes straight ahead despite the distractions and the beast that is the NHL playoffs.

With the Stanley Cup in the city, if not in Consol Energy Center should the situation call for it, it's impossible not to at least think about what could be.

"It's hard not to think about it, realistically," Sheary said. "There's a lot going on around that brings attention to it. But as much as you can, you've got to think about it as another game. We're one win away, but there's still a lot of work to do. It's not done yet, we just have to keep the right mindset."

Sheary vows the routine leading to what might be the biggest game in his life will be like any other.

"It's got to be the same, you can't change it now," he said. "You get in a routine on game days and you want to stay with that, you don't want to stray from that too much. Just the morning skate, lunch, then a nap.

"That's pretty much it, it's a pretty boring day," he added with an almost apologetic smile. "My pregame nap might not be as good, or my sleep [Wednesday] might not be as good. But once the puck drops, it will be all the same."

Words probably spoken nearly a decade ago by Crosby, no longer wet behind his playoff ears.

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