Sullivan: Penguins 'Capable of Great Things'

Penguins clinch postseason berth for NHL leading 13th straight year

Josh Rowntree
April 04, 2019 - 10:55 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel (81), left, celebrates with forward Evgeni Malkin (71) after scoring a goal during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at PPG PAINTS Arena.

David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Pittsburgh extended its NHL best streak of playoff berths to 13 years with Thursday’s 4-1 win over Detroit at PPG Paints Arena.

“The fact that this organization has had the longstanding success that they’ve had is a reflection of their leadership and their professionalism,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said postgame. “It starts with our ownership with Mario (Lemieux) and Ron (Burkle). But our management team, David Morehouse, Jim Rutherford, they just do it right, in my opinion. It’s a privilege to work for this organization and their playoff success here is a reflection of that professionalism.”

“I think it’s always the goal to get in the playoffs and win at the end of the year. It’s not as easy as that,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby added. “There’s a lot of good teams that won’t be in the playoffs this year. With some of the injuries, and things like that, I think we did a good job of different guys stepping up, guys who got called up came in and did a great job. It took different things to get there, but we did it as a group and that always feels good.”

And the injuries were plentiful for Pittsburgh in the 2018-2019 regular season, which will conclude Saturday, at home, against the Rangers. 

Crosby missed three games this year. Fellow star center Evgeni Malkin did not play in 14 games. Defenseman Kris Letang did not suit up for 18 games, forward Patric Hornqvist missed 13, forward Bryan rust was out for 11, defenseman Justin Schultz was out for 54 games and defenseman Olli Maatta missed 22. On top of that, Pittsburgh’s goalie, Matt Murray, missed time on multiple occasions with injury. 

“I think, every year, we’ve got some adversity,” said Letang, who was sidelined for the 2017 Stanley Cup run and returned to the lineup Thursday following a battle with an upper-body injury. “It’s not different. A few years ago, Sid was out, and I don’t think the expectation was ‘oh, Sid is out, we’re not making the playoffs.’ We still put up a big roster every year. That’s the expectation going into training camp, is to make it to the postseason and give ourselves a chance to win.”

“I give the playoffs a lot of credit,” Sullivan added. “We’ve played a lot of good hockey here over the last month to make the playoffs at this points. I think the players have done a terrific job at just making the commitment, game in and game out, to find ways to win. 

“We’ve had a lot of injuries here over the last month, key guys not in the lineup And yet guys continue to find ways to win. That’s what I love about the group of players. They’re a committed group, they love playing at this time of year and they deserve a lot of credit.”

While Pittsburgh would have liked to wrap things up earlier, and not have their playoff fates decided so late, to get in is where a run can start. And this group, with a core that has won either two or three championships, is aware of that. 

“It’s not easy,” Crosby said. “It comes down (this year) to game 81. There’s a lot of things that happen over the course of the year, so it’s difficult. It’s a tight League, so you’ve got to earn it. But, we’ve got a game left here, and we’ve got to take advantage of that and get some points and get ready. 

"We needed to win,” said winger Phil Kessel, who scored a pair of goals in Thursday’s victory. “We want to solidify it for sure and not have to go into the last game and have to win a game.  So it was a good win for us and we'll move on and prepare for the next game."

Through the injuries, the catalyst to the Penguins late-season success has been Murray. Often injury-prone himself, the Penguins’ goalie has, arguably, been the team’s best player over the last month.

"It's special,” he said. “It's not easy to do. I think it says a lot about the team, the organization as a whole, all the way down to (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), too. It says a lot about how they develop players and that consistency is pretty cool."

Who the Penguins will play in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is still to be determined by this weekend’s results. Beginning in New York, against a young Islanders team, is the most realistic possibility. But there are other scenarios. So now the focus goes from clinching to seeding. 

“I think it’s a good thing to be in that mentality,” Crosby said. “I think it brings the best out of us. But, that being said, it’s one more game. So your habits have got to be there. As far as seeding, we’ve had a lot of motivation up to this point and that’s still something that’s on our mind and it was on our mind prior to tonight.”

No matter the foe, the Penguins will likely be a very tough out due to the team’s prior success and intangibles when it comes to postseason play.

“It's nice,” Kessel added. “I think we have a good team here. We'll see who we play coming up and we'll give it our all."

“I believe in this group,” Sullivan added. “When we play the game the right way, I think we can compete with any team in this League. We have difference makers through our lineup, we have depth in all of our positions, we have outstanding goaltending. I believe this group is capable of great things. We just have to stay in the moment and just keep working at it. We have to earn it, every day.”

Hear from Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan below.