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Mike Harrington: Moment is at hand for Pens to make history

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For now at least, Mike Sullivan has no time to succumb to thoughts of history. The Pittsburgh Penguins are oh-so-close to making some Sunday night in Bridgestone Arena, but Sullivan chuckled here Saturday when asked how he deals with the temptation to think about winning the Stanley Cup.

He's a coach. Too much to worry about before then.

"Coaches always worry. It's just part of our DNA," Sullivan said after the Penguins arrived in town. "We worry about everything all the time, so there isn't a day from the day training camp opens. I just think that's the nature of the business. And of all the coaches that I've been around, we all seem to be the same way."

Every other coach in the NHL would love to be in this spot. The Penguins lead the Nashville Predators in the Cup final, three games to two. If they win Sunday, they become the first repeat champion since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.

But every other coach also knows dealing with the raucous Bridgestone atmosphere makes Sullivan's job the toughest in the league come Sunday night.

"We go about our business just like the players do," Sullivan said. "You know, it's a process. There's a routine involved in making sure that you just stay on task. And so the coaches are no different in that regard. We're going to go about our business like we always do."

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The Penguins were here one year ago in San Jose with a 3-2 lead and got the job done with a 3-1 victory. In fact, it should be noted all four of their previous Cups have come on the road -- In Game Six at San Jose and in 1991 in Minnesota, in Game Four in 1992 in Chicago and in Game Seven in 2009 at Detroit.

"It's obviously one of those things that you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself," said Pens winger Chris Kunitz, who's trying for his fourth Cup after also winning with Anaheim in 2007. "You know you have to go out there and still perform to be able to achieve your ultimate goal, to go out there and have our best game of the season and beat their best that they're going to throw at us."

There's a lot riding on this title. It would be No. 3 for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, further cementing them as one of the great duos in hockey history. It would be the second straight for Matt Cullen, likely sending the 40-year-old into retirement the best way possible, and the second straight for goaltender Matt Murray -- who is incredibly still eligible for the Calder Trophy. It would be the first for rookie Jake Guentzel, still one shy of the all-time record for goals by a rookie in the playoffs.

Earlier in the day, after the team practiced in Pittsburgh, Crosby downplayed talk of his legacy because the Penguins haven't reached the goal yet.

"I think we've come a long way and put ourselves in the position, given ourselves an opportunity, but it's what we do with that," Crosby said. "There's lots of time when you're done playing to think about that stuff."

The Penguins, remember, were out of the playoffs in December of last season before they fired Mike Johnston and promoted Sullivan from the minor leagues. He authored a turnaround that led all the way to the franchise's first Cup in seven years, and then directed a team that put together a 111-point season this year.

"We've been through a lot since the coaching change and we were struggling last year to get in the playoffs," said winger Patric Hornvqist. "And then we went on a really good run there the last 15 games, and really carried that momentum into the playoffs.

"This year I think we had a really good regular season and we just keep building every time we go on the ice together and try to get better every time. Now we're standing here in front of a huge goal."

Defenseman Ron Hainsey was not in San Jose last year. He was a trade acquisition this year from Carolina and played 907 career games -- most of any active player -- before finally get a postseason chance in April.

"We're going to approach it like we're going to have the team that's playing for its life tomorrow and playing for them for an opportunity to go to Game Seven back in our building," Hainsey said. "I think if we're not prepared for them to play a tremendous game against us and make it very difficult for us to accomplish our goal, we're going to be in big trouble."

Things have been going the Penguins' way in this series, even before Thursday's 6-0 destruction of the Preds in PPG Paints Arena. Their 4-1 loss in Game Four here on Monday was the first sign their game was kicking into gear as they created several odd-man rushes for chances, only to be stopped by Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.

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Rinne couldn't make those saves in Game Five and the Penguins rolled. Their job is going to be much tougher on the road. The fact virtually everyone on their roster went through this experience just a year ago has to help.

"Players understand the opportunity that's in front of them, but I think it's very important that we exercise a certain discipline to stay in the moment, and these guys have done that," Sullivan said. "They understand the importance of it. And so as we've said all along here, these players have earned the right, have earned the opportunity that is in front of us right now. But we haven't accomplished anything to this point, and so we've got to make sure that we continue to earn our way, and that's through our performance."

So coachy. But so true.

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