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Penguins focused on Game 6 with Stanley Cup in sight

One win from defending title, Pittsburgh vows to pay close attention to detail against Predators

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz was in the middle of a cliché-filled answer, talking about the need for one more win, how the fourth one is always the hardest to get, how they can't think too far ahead, how they have to take it shift-by-shift, period-by-period, yada, yada, yada.

And then Schultz smiled. And then he broke out laughing.

Even Schultz, trying to play it straight when asked if he allows himself to think about the Stanley Cup now, wasn't buying what he was trying to sell after Pittsburgh's 6-0 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday.

The Penguins have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. They are one win away from being the first repeat Stanley Cup champion since 1998. The Cup will be in the building when they play Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). They're potentially 60 minutes away from another summer of partying.

"I mean," Schultz said, now into a full-on laugh, "it's impossible not to think about."

There, an honest answer. Good.


[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final series coverage]


Nobody would have believed Schultz or any of the Penguins if they said they won't think about the Stanley Cup between now and puck drop in Nashville on Sunday. Frankly, it'll probably be the only thing they think about.

There is nothing wrong with that. Imagine being one step away from achieving something great, from doing something that hasn't been done in 19 years. You'd be thinking about the finish line, too.

But the thing about the Penguins is they can keep their eyes on the prize without losing focus on the process. They did it last year when they were up 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final going into Game 5 at home against the San Jose Sharks. They lost, so they had to do it again going into Game 6 at SAP Center. They won.

"I think this group of guys in here is good to just focus on the little things and getting the job done," Schultz said. "Whatever happens, we're going to keep going."

That's exactly what the Penguins have done against the Predators.

"I believe this team has gotten better with each game that it's played," coach Mike Sullivan said.

He's probably right.

The Penguins won 5-3 in Game 1, but were outplayed for long stretches. They even went 37 minutes without a shot on goal.

They won 4-1 in Game 2, when they were better than they were in Game 1 but not close to as good as they can be. They scored three goals in the first 3:28 of the third period. Otherwise, the Predators outplayed them.

"We knew coming out of the first two games that we probably didn't play our best," Sullivan said, "and were fortunate to be in the position that we were in."

Video: Michelle speaks with Murray about his performance

The Penguins lost 5-1 in Game 3 because the Predators were opportunistic, goalie Matt Murray wasn't good, and their big three of center Sidney Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin and forward Phil Kessel were no-shows.

However, they responded with a solid Game 4 filled with high danger chances and a jump-on-my-back performance from Crosby. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was better and Nashville won 4-1. Stuff happens.

"I think sometimes people can get fooled by the scores of games, but we don't," Sullivan said. "We try to keep an objective assessment of our games, and we felt as though we played a little bit better than the results we got in Nashville."

They carried that momentum into Game 5 and rolled over the Predators like a freight train barreling downhill.

Crosby, Malkin and Kessel combined for two goals and six assists. Twelve players had at least one point, including five from the defense group, which Sullivan said might have had its best game of the 24 the Penguins have played in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

All six defensemen were quick to make a play from the back end, to move the puck up to the forwards and to join the rush to make it a five-man breakout. Their gaps were tight. It's hard to recall a single Grade-A chance created by the Predators. Murray may never have an easier 24-save shutout.

"I think we've got a realistic assessment of where our team is at," Sullivan said. "We believe that we're gaining traction and momentum with each game that we play. We understand that the next one is going to be the hardest, and so we're going to have to reset our mindset and be ready."

The assumption here is they will do exactly that, because that's what the Penguins do so well.

"We don't spend too much time patting ourselves on the back," center Matt Cullen said.

Instead they analyze, they process and they move on. Their approach won't change even if they're one win away, and spouting off all the clichés in the world won't get them to stop thinking about the prize.

Day off Friday. Practice and travel Saturday. Morning skate Sunday. Opening faceoff Sunday night. One shift and one period at a time.

None of it sounds exciting, but setting up the party never is.

"Still a lot of work to be done," Crosby said.

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