Veteran Steve Sullivan has proved to be a nice complement on Sidney Crosby's left side.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steve Sullivan isn't exactly new to any of this.
He's 37 years old and broke into the NHL in the 1995-96 season.
He's played 969 NHL games.
He's piled up 283 goals and 730 points.
Matchup: New York Rangers at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Biron for Rangers.
Penguins: Are tied with Rangers for most home-ice victories in Eastern Conference (27). ... C Evgeni Malkin has plus-minus rating of minus-6 in past seven games. ... Are scoring league-leading average of 3.3 goals per game.
Rangers: Have 24 road victories, tying franchise record, and need one more win to tie overall team mark (52). ... RW Marian Gaborik has six-game points streak. ... Are 35-5-3 when scoring first.
Hidden stat: Rangers lead the NHL with 1,162 hits on road, 99 more than second-ranked Penguins.
But despite all that, Sullivan said, he's never had an opportunity like the one he'll get next week.
Never been in a position where his team is just 16 victories away from a Stanley Cup and has a realistic chance at getting them.
"I've been to the semifinals once, with Toronto in '99, and we were more of a Cinderella story," he said. "We were riding an extremely hot goalie in Curtis Joseph. I don't think we were thought of as contenders at all.
"Besides that, I've been on teams that have just scraped to get into the playoffs. I think we had one team in Nashville, when we traded for [Peter] Forsberg, that we thought we had a pretty good shot. I was injured at the time, so I really didn't get a chance to play. So this is as good a shot as I've ever had."
If the Penguins make a serious run at the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup this spring, Sullivan figures to play a significant role.
Oh, he isn't likely to steal attention from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang, but laboring on Crosby's left side isn't exactly low-profile work.
Sullivan was plugged in there a few games ago and, with Pascal Dupuis on the other wing, the unit has jelled nicely: In the past three games, its members have combined for 19 points.
Their productivity is part of the reason the Penguins can clinch fourth place in the Eastern Conference -- and home-ice advantage for Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs -- in any of several ways tonight when they face the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.
Beating the Rangers would do it. So would fifth-place Philadelphia losing its home game against Buffalo in regulation. Or the Penguins and Flyers both being beaten in overtime or shootout.
Sullivan was limping after the Penguins' 5-3 victory Tuesday night in Boston but, because they had a day off Wednesday, it isn't known whether he has a noteworthy injury or simply an occupational annoyance.
Sullivan, it must be noted, has been exceptionally durable this season. He has missed only one of the first 80 games (March 25 at New Jersey), which is striking for a man who has endured some major lost-time problems throughout his career.
But, while many people outside the organization are surprised by that, Sullivan, who joined the Penguins as a free agent last summer, is not.
"When I talked to [general manager Ray Shero] before signing and he asked if I was healthy or not, my response to him was that the two injuries I've had since my back have been a knee and a sports hernia, which anybody can get," Sullivan said. "It's not an age thing. It's just a matter of genetics, I think.
"I was coming into the season expecting to play all 82 and, if it wasn't for our trainers telling me that the smartest thing to do was to sit out that back-to-back game, I would have played all 82. It was a tough decision to sit that one out. I really wanted to play all 82."
Although Sullivan played alongside Malkin much of the season, assistant coach Tony Granato, who oversees the forwards, said he is a logical fit with Crosby.
"He certainly sees the offensive game in different ways than most players," Granato said. "He can understand Sid and he's very confident as well.
"Sometimes, you put players who aren't used to playing with extremely skilled players in that position and they get nervous and change how they play.
"I think [Sullivan] complements him very well, with the way he reads the offensive play and moves the puck, the way he creates space for Sid with some of the things he does offensively."
Sullivan said he hasn't had to make any adjustments to his game to mesh with Crosby, but noted that playing with him obliges a winger to be ready for scoring opportunities to materialize when none seems possible.
"You're maybe a little more aware when he has [the puck] that you might be getting it," Sullivan said.
"Sometimes, it looks like there isn't a chance that he can get it through, and it does come through."
Sullivan is the Penguins' No. 5 scorer, with 17 goals and 31 assists, and has given a fair return on their $1.5 million investment. And he insists his energy reserves have not been drained by the regular season.
"Without a doubt," he said. "I feel as healthy as ever and very energized playing here."
NOTE -- The Penguins recalled defenseman Brian Strait from their team in Wilkes-Barre, presumably because of an unspecified injury Matt Niskanen got late in the second period of their 5-3 victory Tuesday in Boston.