Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan hoists the Stanley Cup as Bryan Rust (17) watches after defeating the Nashville Predators 2-0 in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) (Associated Press)
When it comes to mantras, Mike Sullivan's “Just Play” forever will be associated with the Penguins' successive Stanley Cup championship runs.
Only because “Just Win” was already taken.
If Sullivan is responsible for the way the Penguins play, he deserves credit for their historic run to a second consecutive Cup championship.
“I think we'll keep him for another year,” Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux said, with a sly smile. “He's a great coach. He knows how to handle all situations. He knows how to adjust, which is a big part of us winning the Stanley Cup. If you don't adjust game to game, you're going to get beat.
“But this guy can do it all.”
If Dan Bylsma did what Michel Therrien couldn't in leading the Penguins to a Cup championship, then Sullivan has done what Bylsma couldn't in leading them to back-to-back Cup titles.
Sullivan joins Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls, and Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh, who won two World Series, as the city's only coaches to win multiple world championships.
“I don't know if it's any more satisfying than the previous one,” Sullivan said on the ice after the Penguins' clinching Game 6 victory at the Nashville Predators. “They both have their own storylines. We're proud of both accomplishments.”
Sullivan likes to say world championships aren't won with the absence of character, and the Penguins proved to be the personification of their 49-year-old coach with a thick Boston accent who preaches about focusing on the process.
The players echo his message, whether it's Just Play or Play the Right Way, in the way they talk.
Those words were designed to challenge the competitive nature of a talented team whose resiliency and resolve repeatedly were tested in this playoff run.
“We try to find little catchphrases that try to be reflective of how we want to play, and so these phrases end up taking on significant meaning with our team, and more so than probably the outside of our locker room,” Sullivan said.
“We're trying to define with this group of players a certain identity, a certain style of play, a certain attitude that we think gives this group the best chance to be successful. We've come up with a few in our room that have caught on with this group of players. And, you know, this coaching staff is so appreciative of how receptive they are to what we're preaching, and I think it starts with our leadership.”
Where Sullivan leaned on his veterans, he also provided guidance by adapting to injuries involving key players and showing conviction to stand by decisions.
The most controversial, of course, was his move to replace Marc-Andre Fleury with Matt Murray in goal. Murray was motivated to reward Sullivan's trust, and did so by recording shutouts in Games 5 and 6.
Sullivan repeatedly said during the Stanley Cup playoffs that these Penguins were “a privilege to coach.”
“This coaching staff is so appreciative of this group of players and what they go through,” Sullivan said. “We push them hard. You know, it's not always warm and fuzzy, and so we push them hard to try to get the best out of them, and these guys embrace every challenge we give them.”
The Penguins accepted every challenge Sullivan gave them, whether it was to Just Play or Play the Right Way.