Cam Tucker

Sullivan pushing all the right buttons with Penguins one win away from the Stanley Cup

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PITTSBURGH — There is no magic button, even if the correlation between Mike Sullivan’s deft attempts to a get player’s attention and that player almost immediately elevating his game is unmistakable.

The Pittsburgh Penguins coach insists he’s just doing his job, one that has brought the underachieving team to within three periods of a Stanley Cup that seems as inevitable now as it seemed unlikely when he took over in mid-December.

Pittsburgh headed home Tuesday with a firm 3-1 lead over the San Jose Sharks in the tightly contested but ultimately one-sided best-of-seven after Evgeni Malkin picked up a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory on Monday night. Malkin’s performance came barely 36 hours after Sullivan praised the star center for his hard work while adding the team needed even more from him if the Penguins wanted to close out the franchise’s fourth title.

Related: Sullivan excited to work with Penguins stars Crosby, Malkin

And just like that, it happened.

There was Malkin getting the secondary assist on Ian Cole‘s opening goal. There was Malkin redirecting Phil Kessel‘s pass from the circle into the net for a 2-0 advantage. There was Malkin skating with purpose, breaking up passes on one end of the ice and looking for his shot at the other. His first goal of the Cup final came when he darted for the far post on the power play and found himself all alone when Kessel threaded it to him.

“It’s not like great goal, but it’s just go to net, you know, and stay close to net and try play around net,” Malkin said. “When I have puck, I’m try shoot. It’s simple game tonight for me.”

A vintage one too. Ditto Sullivan, whose knack for drawing the best out of his players during Pittsburgh’s thrillingly arduous playoff run is becoming so frequent it’s tempting to ask him for lottery numbers.

He noticed rookie Conor Sheary looking fatigued during the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay and sat him for Game 5. Sheary, rested and still confident after a brief talk with Sullivan, returned to his pest-like self and has scored twice during the Cup final, including the overtime winner in Game 2.

Sullivan pulled struggling defenseman Olli Maatta in the second round against Washington yet stressed to the 21-year-old Maatta he would eventually get another chance, one that arrived when Trevor Daley went down with an ankle injury. All Maatta has done since his return is become the best Pittsburgh defenseman not named Kris Letang.

A sluggish night by rookie goaltender Matt Murray in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals led to Sullivan’s most risky decision. He awarded the Game 5 start to veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, a move he made after taking 10 minutes to explain the reasoning behind it to Murray. It made all the difference. When Fleury slipped late in an overtime loss, Sullivan went right back to Murray. The 22-year-old is 5-1 since returning to the lineup.

“Every player goes through their ups and downs, times when they’re at the top of their game, and times where it can be a bit of a challenge,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s just human nature. Our players are no different. It never changes our opinions of these guys or how we feel about them. It’s our responsibility as their coaching staff to try to help them through the process.”

A responsibility that Sullivan takes seriously. The hyper-competitive forward who spent 11 seasons grinding out a career developed an appreciation for coaches who didn’t mince words. He places a premium on transparency. There is very little guessing about what’s on his mind, mostly because he doesn’t hesitate to say what needs to be said and if you don’t like the tone, well, that’s on you though Sullivan makes it a point to never make it personal.

“When he needs to he can call you out and tell you that he wants more from you,” Murray said.

And no one is immune, regardless of status. When Malkin failed to register anything on the scoresheet through the first three games of the Cup final, Sullivan decided it was time to speak up.

“He’s been a big part of this playoff success,” Sullivan said. “But certainly I know that there’s another level that he has to help us win.”

The comments came only after Sullivan spoke to Malkin, the new father – his daughter Nikita was born last Tuesday – well aware of his own inability to transfer his power and creativity into points. Given an opportunity to lift Pittsburgh to the cusp of a title, Malkin looked like the force of nature who bulled his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy the last time the Penguins won it all in 2009.

“When he turns it on, obviously what he can do for us is huge for our team,” Cole said.

Then again, in Sullivan’s mind that makes Malkin no different than any of the other 20 guys in black-and-gold. He tries to work phrases like “play the right way” and “our group” in to nearly every answer. His team’s rise over the last six months is a collective effort, not a star-driven one.

“I’ve told these guys from day one that we believe in this group,” Sullivan said. “We believe in our players, and we know when the stakes are high, they’re going to be at their best.”

No magic button required.

 

Report: Avalanche, former GM Sherman part ways

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  (L-R) Greg Sherman, Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Greg Sherman’s time with the Colorado Avalanche is now over, according to the Denver Post.

It was reported on Tuesday that Sherman, the team’s general manager from 2009 to 2014, has moved on from the Avalanche after 15 years with the club. The move comes almost a full year after Sherman was named the team’s senior VP of business and team operations.

From the Denver Post:

He was the point man in the team’s quest to build a new practice facility, which has yet to materialize, and assisted owner Josh Kroenke at the NHL owner meetings. The Avs were once looking to join forces with the Highlands Ranch Metro District to build a new practice facility off Lucent Boulevard, just south of C-470, and still might consider building the facility on Kroenke-owned property in Commerce City.

Sherman’s time as Avalanche GM came to an end in September of 2014 when Joe Sakic, then the executive VP of hockey operations, was additionally handed the title of general manager.

As a result, Sherman was moved to assistant GM, before he was named VP of business and team operations.

‘No magic answer’ to get Pavelski, Thornton going for the Sharks

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The leading goal scorer in these playoffs has yet to score a goal or even record a point in the Stanley Cup Final. And time is now running out for Joe Pavelski and the San Jose Sharks.

In four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Pavelski, who has a league-leading 13 goals in these playoffs, has been completely shut out. Joe Thornton, his linemate, has two assists, both coming in a Game 3 overtime win for San Jose.

However, following a 3-1 loss in Game 4 on Monday, the series, the season and the Stanley Cup are all now on the line.

Prior to Game 4, much was made about Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins star forward, being shut out in three games to begin the series. He went out Monday and had a two-point night.

Is there reason for optimism for the Sharks and their fans — at least for a one-game breakout? After managing a total of four shots on goal through three games of the series for Pavelski, the Sharks captain had five on Matt Murray in Monday’s loss.

“He’s getting his chances, so it’s one of those things — goal-scoring can go in bunches and it can go away,” Sharks veteran forward Patrick Marleau told SFGate.com.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t go in, but he’s been all around it. As long as he’s getting looks, that’s the main thing.”

Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer addressed the struggles of Pavelski and Thornton on Tuesday, saying he feels they’ve created more with each game in the series.

But, using Melker Karlsson‘s goal as the example, he stressed the need for offensive contributions from others in the lineup and the need to draw more penalties. So far, the Sharks have one power play goal in eight opportunities in the entire series. (The Penguins also have only eight power play opportunities.)

“There is no magic answer. They get a ton of attention. I think our support group has to take a little bit of pressure off them,” DeBoer said to reporters.

“You have to give Pittsburgh some credit for the job they’ve done on them. The stars on both sides would tell you there’s not a lot of room out there.”

Related: Four games, no leads for the Sharks — ‘We’ve got to find an answer for that’

There will now be a Matt Murray Avenue in Pittsburgh — at least for one day

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 06:  Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins tends goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game Four of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 6, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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So, it sounds like the people of Pittsburgh are pretty excited about the Penguins having the chance to claim the Stanley Cup on home ice Thursday.

The Penguins lead the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in the series and can win their second championship in eight years with a victory in Thursday’s Game 5.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this occasion has prompted Pittsburgh City Council to re-name a street — at least for that game day — to Matt Murray Avenue in celebration of the Penguins rookie puck stopper who has been so good in these playoffs despite a lack of experience.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Pittsburgh City Council today passed a “Will of Council” that renames the thoroughfare for the day, when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Councilman Corey O’Connor said he got a call around 5:30 a.m. from Star 100.7’s Bubba Show asking for council to consider honoring the Pens’ starting goalie. Their plea, he said, was backed by about 20,000 listeners.

The excitement in Pittsburgh doesn’t stop there.

On Tuesday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was confident his players could keep their emotions in check leading up to Thursday, despite having two days to wait before such a pivotal game.

“We’ve got some guys in there that have this in perspective, that have been through similar experiences in the past. I think our guys are very grounded. They understand the challenge in front of us,” Sullivan told reporters.

“We have to try to do our best to ignore some of the noise surrounding the group. I think our players are well aware of it. They’ve been through it the whole post-season.

“We know that we’re going to need our very best in order to accomplish our ultimate goal.”

DeBoer isn’t about to rule Hertl out of the Stanley Cup Final

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 24:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on February 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Despite a report surfacing Monday saying Tomas Hertl was out for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Final with a knee injury, San Jose Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer isn’t ready to completely rule out the talented 22-year-old forward just yet.

Hertl has missed the last two games of the championship series versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sharks travel back to Pittsburgh trailing 3-1 in the series. They need a win Thursday to extend it back to California for Game 6.

“Improvement every day that I’ve seen him. Hopeful, yes. I term him as day-to-day,” DeBoer told reporters.

“This time of year, guys find an inner strength and play with injuries. I mean, that’s just what these guys do at this level. I’m not ruling him out for any games.”

With Hertl out, Melker Karlsson, Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi have all seen time on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

Related: With Hertl out again, Sharks wary of loading up top line