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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins focused on next game rather than making history

Even with chance at Stanley Cup repeat, Pittsburgh's emphasis squarely on Predators

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins know they could be on the verge of something special.

If the Penguins defeat the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final, they would become the first repeat champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. For now, though, the Penguins aren't focused on history.

The history will take care of itself. Game 1 of the Cup Final, which will be at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports, SN), won't.

"We just want to focus on this year," forward Conor Sheary said Saturday. "We don't want to worry too much about whether it's repeating or going back to back. I think we just want to come into this series and win another round. I think it's important to just worry about the next game, have a short memory and the first to four wins."

Sheary did say, though, that winning consecutive championships would be "pretty cool." So was making it this far for the second straight year.

 

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The Penguins are the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive years since the Penguins and Red Wings competed in two straight in 2008 and 2009.

When the Penguins began the 2015-16 season a lackluster 15-10-3, competing for back-to-back championships at this point would have seemed improbable at best. Then Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach on Dec. 12, 2015. That began a surge that ended with a six-game victory against the San Jose Sharks in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

The road back to the Final has been different. It took the Penguins two Game 7 victories to get this far this season, compared to one in 2016. The offense hasn't been what it was at this same point a year ago (3.05 goals per game through the conference final compared to 3.22 in 2016). They've missed key players for extended time because of injury, including top defenseman Kris Letang for all of the postseason after season-ending neck surgery and No. 1 goalie Matt Murray for nearly all of the first two rounds.

But some see that adversity as a positive.

"It's still extremely hard," forward Bryan Rust said. "It's still a battle. It's still a grind every day. As far as our team goes, it gives us a little more confidence since we have been there, we know what to expect, we know how to handle certain situations, and that could help make our team a little bit stronger."

That experience has proven successful in the past. Centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were the focal points of the Penguins when they lost to the Red Wings in the 2008 Final and then defeated Detroit to win the Stanley Cup in 2009. They still are Pittsburgh's on-ice leaders.

Video: Crosby and Malkin against Nashville's top four

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin said Crosby and Malkin have discussed what they went through eight years ago, and have gone through since then.

"[Crosby and Malkin] went to two Cup Finals and they didn't get back to that point until last year," Dumoulin said. "So they know, at this point, not to take things for granted and you have to give it your best chance, give it your best shot. Especially for a lot of us, it's early in our career. You're not going to know if we're going to get back to this point again. You're not going to want to let an opportunity slip.

"Look at a guy like [36-year-old defenseman] Ron Hainsey, who's been in this league for so long [14 seasons], and this has been his only chance to get a Stanley Cup and play in the playoffs. You can go your whole career without giving yourself a chance at a Stanley Cup. I think we have a lot of hungry guys in our locker room."

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