CRANBERRY, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't fooling themselves.
They realize Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks will be anything but the next box on the schedule when they play at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). With a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, Pittsburgh could clinch its first championship since 2009.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has preached staying in the moment for months and his players have abided by his motto. Thursday will prove difficult in that respect, but the Penguins will attempt to temper expectations.
In a crowded locker room after practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on Wednesday, the Penguins didn't shy away from the moment.
Video: Crosby and DeBoer push their teams in Gm4 of the SCF
"It's hard to approach this as just another game," said forward Matt Cullen, who won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. "A lot goes into it emotionally. A lot goes into it physically and mentally. It's about managing that emotion. But it's not like you can show up in the morning and say, 'It's another game, it's Game 40 here in December' or whatever.
"We understand how big this game is, and it's exciting. We've worked our butts off to get here and we've gone through a lot to get here. So, I'm proud of what we've done so far, but we're not there yet."
With that said, will Cullen, 39, have trouble sleeping Wednesday?
"Yeah, probably," he said with smile and a pause. "Probably."
Penguins defenseman Ian Cole will attempt to sleep a bit better.
Video: Crosby Contributing in Different Ways
"I think you have to," Cole said. "It's one of those things where if you think about it too much, you're going to get way too excited. I know I would. You have to sleep. If you don't sleep, then you're not going to be as good come game time. So, it's one of those things where you have to try to keep it as normal of a routine as you can."
Before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh stressed treating it as any other game. That turned into a 2-1 win on May 26.
It will be more difficult for the Penguins to rein in their emotions Thursday, but they know it's necessary.
"I'm not going to lie to you. It's not easy to think of [Game 5 as just another game]," forward Eric Fehr said. "That's what we have to do. We know this is going to be a tough game. We know the last one's the hardest to win and we know we have to be prepared for a battle."
Though remaining calm could prove challenging, the Penguins are confident in their structure. Their forechecking, speed and shot blocking will remain intact, which could help them settle in Thursday.
"I think we've played well defensively," said forward Chris Kunitz, who won the Stanley Cup in his first season with Pittsburgh seven years ago. "We've played as a good group that comes through the neutral zone with speed and puts pucks in behind them. We haven't really frustrated ourselves with not shooting the puck, and have kept a level head."
In possibly the Penguins' final practice of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sullivan skated his players for close to an hour Wednesday. Forward Nick Bonino, who took a maintenance day, was the only absentee from the lively skate.
Video: PIT@SJS, Gm4: Fehr nets Hagelin's dish for a 3-1 lead
Sullivan always thinks the Penguins could improve. That was no different Wednesday.
"We worked on things out there today that we think will help us in the next game, and that's what's been our approach all year," Sullivan said. "We're trying to get better every day when we come to the rink, and that's what we tried to do today. We tried to get better out there today.
"I don't think you ever arrive. We could always get better. I think it's that insatiable appetite to improve and get better that's allowed this team to get to the point where it's at. We're going to keep pushing until we achieve our ultimate goal."