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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins' struggles on offense not bothering Mike Sullivan

Coach 'confident' players will 'respond the right way' against Predators in Game 5 of Cup Final

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Coach Mike Sullivan hasn't lost confidence in the Pittsburgh Penguins offense.

Since scoring nine goals in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators to take a 2-0 lead, the Penguins have scored one goal in each of the following two losses.

The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

The past two games haven't caused Sullivan to panic though. He expects his players won't either.

 

[RELATED: Predators calmly focusing on Game 5 | Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

"We're confident our team will respond the right way, as they always have all season long," Sullivan said. "I believe we have great leadership in our room. We've got good players. They understand the circumstances and we've felt as though, with each game that we've played here, our team game is getting stronger."

Pittsburgh lost 4-1 and was outshot 26-24 in Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena on Monday. To Sullivan, those numbers don't necessarily reflect how well the Penguins played.

Predators goalie Pekka Rinne built on Game 3, when he made 27 saves in a 5-1 win, with arguably a better performance Monday. He made 23 saves and allowed a breakaway goal to center Sidney Crosby with 4:03 remaining in the first period, but was tested by several quality scoring chances throughout the final two periods, when he stopped each of the 18 shots he faced.

Video: Darren Pang on Crosby and Rinne's performances

If Pittsburgh creates similar chances at home Thursday, it could produce a different result.

"We had some high-quality scoring chances that we didn't convert, but certainly, we felt as though we had one of our stronger games of the series to this point," Sullivan said. "We believe in the group that we have. They have shown all kinds of evidence that they respond the right way to the adversities that we've been faced with all year long. We believe we'll do it once again."

Despite his optimism, Sullivan realizes Pittsburgh could use more secondary scoring. While Crosby had his best game of the series, with one goal on a team-leading four shots, the rest of the Penguins offense failed to generate much.

That's been a theme through the series.

Center Evgeni Malkin, forward Jake Guentzel and Crosby have scored seven of Pittsburgh's 11 goals in the four games. Conor Sheary scored in Game 1, when he played right wing on Crosby's line.

Center Nick Bonino (two goals in Game 1) and forward Scott Wilson (one goal in Game 2) have scored the three goals from Pittsburgh's bottom two lines this series. Bonino has missed the past two games because of a lower-body injury and Wilson was a healthy scratch in Game 4.

Sullivan played forward Josh Archibald in place of Wilson on Monday. He said he would adjust the lines further, if necessary.

"We've done a fair amount of tweaking of lines to create the balanced attack that we think makes us the most dangerous to play against," Sullivan said. "The secondary scoring is an important aspect of winning at this time of year. … We try, as a coaching staff, to be proactive."

It also hasn't helped that right wing Phil Kessel has one assist in four games this series. He has mostly skated on a line with Malkin throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but played on the third line Monday.

Kessel hasn't played with Crosby at even strength during the playoffs. That likely won't change as the series progresses.

"There hasn't been a ton of chemistry between the two when they have been together," Sullivan said. "We also believe that when we do separate them, we create better balance amongst our group that makes us more difficult to play against."

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