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Emotional Cullen enjoying another Cup run

by Bryanna McDermott @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Forty-year-old Matt Cullen stood on the ice after the Pittsburgh Penguins' 3-2 win in double overtime against the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final at PPG Paints Arena with tears in his eyes. 

As the third period ended tied at 2-2, one goal stood between Cullen, a 19-year NHL veteran, and an extremely difficult decision - retirement.

Five minutes into the second overtime period, Chris Kunitz fired a shot past Ottawa Senators netminder Craig Anderson to give the Pens a win and send the team back to the Stanley Cup Final for a second consecutive year, allowing Cullen to push the decision off for a little longer.

"It was a big game," Cullen said about getting emotional during Game 7. "Obviously, you're so close and we've been through so much this season to try and get here and get back to this point. When the next goal decides your fate one way or the other, it's a big moment."

The idea that this may be Cullen's final playoff push was in his teammate's minds as well during the game.

"I remember sitting next to Cullen thinking, 'This isn't going to be the way he goes out. We're going to win. He deserves that,'" Carl Hagelin said after the Game 7 victory.

However, Cullen is still unsure of where his fate lies once the 2016-17 season concludes.

"Honestly, I don't know," Cullen said. "I've been through this enough to understand that I need to give it some time after the season. It's a decision for me that means a lot, and it carries a lot of weight, so I think it deserves some time after the season. I think when it's all said and done, I'll sit down with the family again and decide what's best. I'm 40 here, and I understand where the world of hockey is at, so I know this could very well this could be my last chance."

The veteran continues to prove that age is just a number. Cullen's speed still matches that of his young wingers on the Pens' fourth line, and his work on the penalty kill has been vital to the Pens' success. He has two goals and seven points throughout these playoffs.

When asked if he feels 40, Cullen replied: "I really don't, and I feel really lucky to say that. It's a tough game, and to be able to play this long, I know that I've been really blessed. I feel really fortunate to be here. I really do. Even more so, I feel blessed to feel as good as I do. Our bodies eventually give out on us, but I'm in a position right now where I feel as good as I think I've ever have playing the game of hockey."

Besides the skill Cullen brings to the ice, he also carries with him invaluable advice.

"'Cully' has especially been a great guy for myself personally through my struggles," said Conor Sheary, who was a healthy scratch for Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. "He's just kind of shares his experience and he's got a lot of knowledge. He's been around the game for a long time. He knows how to go through these ups and downs through a playoff series and playoff rounds. He's really a key to our success as a team."

"He took me aside a couple of times and just told me I was an important part of the team," Sheary continued. "As a younger guy, to hear that from a guy with so much experience and so much respect in this league, it was pretty cool. He doesn't have a letter on his chest or anything, we know he's a leader."

Right now, Cullen isn't thinking too much about his age or the hard decisions left to make after this final series. Instead, he's enjoying the moment of being in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals.

"It doesn't get old," Cullen said. "I think the excitement is the same as it was last year. It's just one of those experiences that is unbelievable. You just never get tired of it. The excitement doesn't change."

Cullen's three hockey-crazed sons are equally excited for the possibility of another Stanley Cup, and this year, they're giving advice to more than just Dad.

"They're fired up," Cullen said. "It's kind of funny because I didn't think anything could top last year, and it's been fun. We kind of just picked up where we left off, back into the playoff routines and they're at every game. They got their opinions and their advice for just about everything for me. And now they know the guys well enough, they're starting to share their opinions and advice with some of the guys.

"It's mostly how to score. They like to tell me what they would have done if they had the opportunity, and what I should have done. It's fun. For me, it's another year where I pinch myself as a dad, being able to bring the boys into the locker room and be around the same group of guys. It just doesn't get any better."

No matter what happens in the off-season, Cullen has found a temporary home in Steel City and can't imagine playing for any other team.

"Pittsburgh has just been the perfect fit in all regards," Cullen said. "Last year there was a lot about me and my family and the boys and what a great set up we have, and that's just been unbelievable. The community has been awesome, and, for me, the hockey has been unbelievable. It couldn't go any better. When you're sitting here in your second Stanley Cup Final in two years, obviously, it's been a dream."

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