"I think, as far as the way I look at it, it's not just another game. I think we all understand that, but you have to approach that the same way and use that as motivation," captain Sidney Crosby said of the Stanley Cup being in the building. "If anything, I think that should push you. That should push you to be at your best and that's what we need tomorrow."
Two words that the Pens players and their coach used on Saturday heading into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday against Nashville at Bridgestone Arena were 'mindset' and 'process.'
They know that mindset has to be focused on themselves and what they need to do to. Not focused on the Predators and how loud their crowd is and their 9-1 record at home these playoffs. Not focused on how the Stanley Cup will be in close proximity and knowing that a victory will give them the chance to hoist it for a second straight year.
Just focused on the process of what it will take to earn it.
"It's obviously one of those things where you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself," forward Chris Kunitz said. "You know that you have to go out and there and still perform tomorrow to be able to achieve the ultimate goal, which is to go out there and have our best game of the season and beat their best that they're going to throw at us. And if we don't do that, we're not going to be able to accomplish anything.
"So I think you always have to go into the reassurance of how well your team can play and once you understand and trust that process, we know that we'll go out and have our best game and hopefully that prevails us to win."
Relying on the process will give them a level of comfort and normalcy heading into Sunday.
"All the games at this time of year obviously have heightened scrutiny and the importance of the games are obvious. But I think the process is the same, and that's what we rely on as players and coaches," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "And so we're focused on that. We're focused on the certain routines that work for all of us and we'll go about our business as a team like we always do and when that puck drops, we have to be at our very best and we know it."
"I think we all are so excited to get the game started tomorrow, but we just try to keep the same routines," winger Patric Hornqvist said. "It's a huge game, but in the same way, it's one hockey game. We have our routines and we've been through it so many times. We can't change our routines for a regular season game or a playoff game or Stanley Cup Final game. It's the same thing, and we'd better be ready."
They know they can't get overwhelmed by what's at stake.
"We just try to stay in the moment," goaltender Matt Murray said. "There are for sure a lot of distractions this time of year and it gets heightened as you go, but you really just block that out. I think once the puck drops, you get back to playing the game you love with your teammates, so that is what keeps you in the moment and that is what we are focused on."
"Just go out there and play the way you know how to," winger Conor Sheary agreed. "Don't listen to the noise around you and just go out and have fun and work hard, and I think it will work out for us."
That's a mindset most of these players learned from last year in their Cup-clinching Game 6 victory over the Sharks in San Jose. As Sullivan said, experience is the best teacher, and these Pens have had a lot of lessons over the years.
"We just focused on that game and not everything kind of surrounding it," Crosby said. "We tried to take care of our own game and what we needed to do and let the rest take care of itself. I thought we did a really good job of that and I think our focus is there. I think that we are going to give ourselves the best opportunity here tomorrow."
CULLEN ALSO STAYING IN THE MOMENT
Matt Cullen has enjoyed a storied career. He's played 19 NHL seasons, 1,366 career regular-season games, another 122 in the postseason and has hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head on two occasions.
In fact, Cullen has enjoyed more in his career than other players combined. And the 40-year-old is very appreciative of that and the fact that he is still a contributing member of another championship quest.
"That's one of the things that I've been so appreciative of and have enjoyed so much the last two years is playing a big role on this team," Cullen said. "We have some superstars here, but it's nice to be a role player that does his part. It means a lot."
Of course, Cullen will have to make a tough decision at the conclusion of this season. It's the same decision he faced after winning the Stanley Cup last year.
Is this his final season? And if so, could Sunday's Game 6 in Nashville be the final game of his career?
"It's definitely something you think about when you're home," he said. "I've thought a lot about it. I try to put it out of my mind as much as possible. I'll give it a little bit of time after. I have a pretty good feel with where I'm at, but again, I just want to focus on the present and take care of that after."
Many people thought that Cullen would retire following last season and end his career by winning the Cup. But he instead chose to return for another season to defend that title.
The coaching staff certainly appreciates having Cullen back and the insight he brings.
"He's a guy that brings so much perspective to our team," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's enjoying the opportunity that's in front of us right now. He's a guy that has so much experience to draw on. He's had both successes and failures.
"The players on our team and the coaching staff has so much respect for the things that he brings to this team. I look at 'Cully' as an extension of our coaching staff. That's how highly we think of him."
Now Cullen has a chance to do what he did last season. And ending your career with two Cups is something few can imagine.
"It's something you wouldn't dare dream about," he said. "I guess that's part of the challenge at this time of year. It's important to stay in the moment and focus on what you need to focus on. To have that dream sit out there is pretty exciting."
NOTE: Nick Bonino was the only player missing from practice. Olli Maatta was out there after taking a crosscheck to the face from Colton Sissons in the final minute of Game 5.
The Pens used the same lines and D-pairs as they did in the contest…