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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins leadership 'very grounded'

Sullivan confident in Pittsburgh's focus with Steel City on cusp of Cup celebration

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins are on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2009.

To Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, that only means there's work left undone.

Pittsburgh is one win away from a championship after defeating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday. Carrying a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports), the Penguins could claim the Cup for a fourth time, and the first time in front of a home crowd.

Sullivan isn't booking a parade, though, and neither are his players.

"I think I trust our leadership," Sullivan said Tuesday. "We've got some guys that have a perspective, who have been through similar experiences in the past and I think our guys are very grounded. They understand the challenge in front of us. We just have to focus on that one game and we have to bring our very best for that one game. That's all we can control.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us and our players are well aware of that. We have a lot of respect for the San Jose Sharks and how good their team is. We know we're going to need our very best in order to accomplish our ultimate goal."

If the Penguins win Thursday, they will become Pittsburgh's first major sports team since the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates to clinch a championship in the city.

Those Pirates defeated the New York Yankees 10-9 in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. Second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run over the left field wall at Forbes Field in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Mazeroski wind-milling his helmet while running the bases has since become iconic and is captured by a statue outside PNC Park, the Pirates' current home.

A similar moment could await the Penguins in Game 5, but Sullivan won't allow them to get caught up in the lofty expectations.

"We have to try to do our best to ignore some of the noise surrounding the group and I think our players are well aware of it," Sullivan said. "They've been through this the whole postseason, winning through a number of elimination games already, and they've handled themselves the right way.

"Our players are well aware, just based on their comments after the game [Monday] night, we're certainly excited to be in the position we're in, but by no means do we think that we've accomplished what we sent out to do."

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Before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sullivan said he would like the Penguins to embrace that moment. After falling behind 3-2 in the series, the Penguins responded with one of their more complete efforts in a 5-2 Game 6 win on May 24.

Two days later, Pittsburgh embraced a 2-1 Game 7 win.

Before flying back to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Sullivan said he would advise the Penguins to similarly welcome the test awaiting them in Game 5 of the Cup Final.

"I think one of the things we challenged our group with all year is just to try to stay in the moment," Sullivan said, "and not get ahead of ourselves and look beyond the task at hand, but also not dwell on the past. We try to take lessons from our experiences in the past, whether they are positive or negative, but certainly the most important game is the one right in front of us, and that's where we have to have our focus and we need to have that laser focus for that one task at hand.

"I really give our team a lot of credit because we've been able to stay in the moment for a long time now and I think that's one of the reasons why we've been able to win as many games as we have during the course of the regular season and the postseason, that short-term focus that's so necessary in order to have success."

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