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Insider Only Mike Sullivan is two wins away from doing the greatest coaching job in Penguins’ history

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How Sullivan stacks up against Badger Bob, Bylsma

It ain’t over yet.

Let’s get that out of the way at the top. Penguins fans should know better than anyone that being up two games to none in the Stanley Cup Final doesn’t assure anything.

The Detroit Red Wings went up two games to none on the Penguins back in 2009 and the Penguins did what nobody thought they could do.

They won four of the next five.

But if…if, if IF ..the Penguins do what the odds say they should do and win the Stanley Cup, did Mike Sullivan do the greatest coaching job in Penguins’ history?

I think so.

And that’s not taking anything away from the three previous winners.

Bob Johnson’s team in 1990-91 had only been to the playoffs once since Mario Lemieux showed up in 1984 and it was struggling in March when Craig Patrick pulled off the greatest trade in Penguins history and brought Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson in from Hartford.

Johnson obviously took full advantage of the trade.

Scotty Bowman inherited a Stanley Cup winner and won another one.

Dan Bylsma took over a team that had been to the Stanley Cup Final the year before but looked like it had tuned out its old, no-fun coach.

He got the players to buy into his puck possession system and won The Cup.

Sullivan took over a team that was not only struggling to win, but was all but unwatchable. Every goal seemed like a major project.

Sidney Crosby was spending a lot of time behind his own net and was generating moronic comments from fans and media.

There was talk of abandoning the Crosby-Malkin model – that it had become obvious that it was a major disappointment.

Two weeks later Crosby was scoring more than anyone in the league and the Penguins were on their way to being called the best team in the league, which they have been for the last five months or so.

Jim Rutherford has to be given credit for getting Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daly in trades that seemed to double the team’s speed but Sullivan turned that speed loose.

He lost his franchise goalie, Marc Andre Fleury, and replaced him with a rookie, Matt Murray, and had the guts to stick with him when Fleury was healthy and go back to him after Fleury’s one-game return.

Remember Daniel Sprong, the Penguins’ top draft pick who impressed everybody in training camp with his speed and skill and made the team before being sent back to junior hockey?

His coach, Mike Johnston, liked his speed and skill but thought he still played like a junior player.

Mike Sullivan was “stuck” with a bunch of minor leaguers who didn’t make the team in training camp, but he knew Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl well after coaching them in Wilkes Barre-Scranton.

He not only knew them. He believed in them and knew that they were ready for the NHL.

Without that belief and the contributions of those rookies the Penguins are playing golf this weekend.

It’s not over yet. A win by the Sharks in San Jose changes the look of the series and the Sharks will have the desperation advantage Saturday night.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the series comes back to Pittsburgh next week 2-2.

Of course, I also wouldn’t be surprised if there was no Game 5.

But, if the Penguins win two more games, it will be the greatest coaching performance in Penguins history.

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About The Author

John Steigerwald

TIOPS Columnist

John Steigerwald, a life long Pittsburgher, has been covering PITTSBURGH sports since 1977 as a TV anchor/reporter, columnist radio reporter/commentator and talk show host. He is also the author of one of the best selling local books in Pittburgh history, "Just Watch The Game."

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