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NASHVILLE – Matt Cullen was one of only three Pittsburgh Penguins skaters at their heavily optional morning skate on Sunday, hours before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. It could have been the final one of his career.
Whenever the 2017 Stanley Cup champion is crowned, either in Game 6 or in a potential Game 7 Wednesday, it could also spell the end of Cullen’s 20-year NHL career.
The retirement talk started in the summer of 2015 before he signed with the Penguins. Having parted ways with the Predators, Cullen heard from general manager Jim Rutherford, his old boss with the Carolina Hurricanes, and a deal was done in early August. After a second Stanley Cup title he took the summer to think about his future and ended up re-signing a month before training camps opened for one more ride.
Now 40 years old, Cullen is on the verge of a third Cup title, a feat that would cap off a career that began in 1997 when he was a rookie with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. As the end has approached, the veteran forward has taken time to savor these special moments.
“I probably would say I started doing that last year going through the whole experience, not knowing if you’ve ever have another chance at it,” said Cullen, who will have over a dozen friends and family in attendance for Game 6. “I appreciate every day that I have here and I enjoy every minute of it and I soak it all in, for sure.”
Cullen’s focus isn’t on the end just yet. Game 6 marks Pittsburgh’s first crack at closing out the Predators, something the Penguins couldn’t do in Game 5 last year against the San Jose Sharks. They dropped that game but were able to close out the series on the road, a place this franchise finds itself often in Cup-winning situations.
As one of a number of players on the Penguins rosters with at least one Cup ring, Cullen knows how important it is to not give an opponent life when you’re attempting to close out a series.
“That’s what you have to understand – it’s just an opportunity,” he said, “You’ve got to try to take advantage of it. It’s not just going to present itself; it’s not going to fall in your lap. You’ve got to go out there and earn it. This is a group that understands that. We’re prepared to do that and we’re going to give it our best.”
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