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Breakfast with Benz

Can Penguins' elimination-game magic under Mike Sullivan continue?

| Monday, May 7, 2018, 6:30 a.m.
In Mike Sullivan's nine postseason series as coach, the Penguins have never trailed by more than one game.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
In Mike Sullivan's nine postseason series as coach, the Penguins have never trailed by more than one game.

The biggest reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins have won two consecutive Stanley Cup championships is that they have won when they've needed to.

Four times the Penguins have faced elimination under head coach Mike Sullivan. Four times they have won.

"It comes down to character and who we have in our dressing room," Sullivan said. "These guys are competitive guys. They know what it takes to win. They aren't afraid of challenges. They embrace these situations."

How did they do that? Here's a flashback.

Eastern Conference finals, Game 6, 2016

Up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, Matt Murray got pulled during Game 4 as the Penguins went on to lose in Tampa Bay, 4-3.

Marc-Andre Fleury got to play for the first time since March 31. But the Penguins also lost 4-3 in overtime during Game 5 back in Pittsburgh.

So Sullivan went back to Murray in Game 6 as the Penguins faced elimination on road ice as the rookie goaltender stopped 26 of 28 shots, including 17 in the third period.

Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby all scored to give the Pens a 3-0 lead. But Brian Boyle scored twice to make it 3-2. It stayed that way until 2:08 remained in the 3rd period.

That's when a playoff legend was born.

Bryan Rust scored his first of many elimination-game goals to give his team a much-needed two-goal cushion.

Nick Bonino added an empty-netter and the Penguins won 5-2.

Oh yeah. About five minutes into the game, this happened.

Jonathan Drouin was offsides, so his goal didn't count. Otherwise, that game could've been very different.

Thus, introducing us to another new playoff hero: Penguins video coach Andy Saucier .

Eastern Conference finals, Game 7, 2016

Two days later, Game 7 shifted back to Pittsburgh.

A tense crowd filled Consol Energy Center having seen a slew of failed Game 7's at home since the last Stanley Cup in 1992. Local hockey fans witnessed such defeats in 1993, '96, 2010, '11 and '14.

But the mythology of Bryan Rust continued to grow as he scored two goals.

OK, it wasn't Max Talbot in Detroit in 2009. But it was close.

Meanwhile, the Penguins allowed Matt Murray to see only 17 shots. He stopped 16. The Penguins won the Eastern Conference finals, 2-1. They moved on to beat San Jose in six games to claim the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup title.

Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 7, 2017

After letting a 3-1 series lead slip away, the Penguins had to travel to Washington for a Game 7.

Things were looking bleak. Sidney Crosby had just recently been concussed by Matt Niskanen, and it appeared a Penguins defense without Kris Letang had hit its expiration date.

But Marc-Andre Fleury gave one of his defining moments as a Penguin, blanking the Capitals 2-0, turning aside all 29 Washington shots. The most memorable one being this doozy on Alex Ovechkin.

Of course, it was Bryan Rust who broke the ice after a scoreless first period.

Patric Hornqvist gave the Penguins the padding they needed in the third off the backhand.

From there, it was on to the Eastern Conference finals again, and ...

Eastern Conference finals, Game 7, 2017

Penguins. Ottawa. Game 7. Double Overtime. Next goal wins. Crosby finds Chris Kunitz.

You know the rest.

Seventeen days later, the Penguins would win their fifth Stanley Cup title. Now, if the Penguins can survive this series, they'll see Kunitz again as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals .

That won't be weird or anything.

Does Sullivan think this team has the same starch those other teams did to make it 5 for 5 and eventually 6 for 6 in elimination games?

"Yes, I do." Sullivan said Sunday. "I think it's all about an attitude going in. And I believe our guys have the right attitude. I think they believe in themselves, they know they are capable."

They are. And I think they'll be capable enough to win Monday and at least force a Game 7.

As far as that next chapter? Well, get back to me on Wednesday.

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