With shootouts and three-on-three overtime, wins may become easier to accumulate than generations past when ties were possible. However, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan still joined an elite coaching fraternity on Thursday night when the Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 at Key Bank Arena.
Sullivan became the 14th active coach to hit the milestone, the 50th coach in NHL history to get there, but just the fourth American coach. Sullivan was already the first American coach to win two Stanley Cups.
“We gave him a puck tonight. Everyone said congrats. He’s a great guy, great coach,” Evgeni Malkin said. “I mean, it’s not over. I hope he works for a long time with the team and the NHL too. More wins for him.”
Sullivan’s former boss John Tortorella leads American coaches with 665 wins. Former Penguins boss Dan Bylsma is third with 320 wins.
Since taking over the Penguins in December of 2015, Sullivan is 230-124-41. His winning percentage is .633. Sullivan also amassed 70 wins in two seasons while the Boston Bruins bench boss in 2003-04 and 2005-06 (there was a season-long lockout in 2004-05).
In typical Sullivan style, he admitted he hasn’t thought much about the milestone, though he had to acknowledge its significance. He called it a humbling honor.
“I’m just grateful to the players I’ve had the ability to coach over the years, especially the ones here in Pittsburgh,” Sullivan said. “…I’ve always believed this is a players’ game, and when you have an opportunity to coach a group like I have here in Pittsburgh, you’re going to win a lot of games because they’re so talented and so driven.”
During the pandemic pause, PHN spoke with coaching legend Scott Bowman about Sullivan. Bowman had nothing but praise. Bowman called Sullivan a no-nonsense guy but one who could feel the game like few others.
“He’s also ahead of the game. He was one of the first coaches–he built a racetrack team,” Bowman said. “…(Mike Sullivan) has a feeling of the game. He knows when guys are playing above their peak. You can’t teach that. You have to know your players. That’s (hockey) IQ.”
Despite unparalleled injuries in the first six weeks of the season, Sullivan kept the Penguins on track. Just as he’s done with similar situations in the past. After Thursday’s win, the Penguins are 16-9-1 despite playing the toughest teams in the East Division for most of the first two months of the season.
The Penguins are now in third place of the East Division, but most importantly, they are now four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for the final playoff position. The Flyers have two games in hand, but Thursday marks the first time in weeks the Penguins have held a playoff spot by enough points equal or greater than the games Philadelphia has in hand.
Congratulations on 300 wins, Coach Sullivan!
Mike Sullivan becomes the 50th head coach in NHL
history to reach the 300-win mark. He also joins John Tortorella, Peter Laviolette, and Dan Bylsma as the only American-born head coaches to win 300 games. pic.twitter.com/8vZpEELlIm
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 12, 2021
“I haven’t given it too much thought, to be honest. Obviously, it’s a humbling …. it’s a humbling honor,” Sullivan said. “The players gave me a nice tribute after the game.”
That tribute was a game puck, and since Sullivan’s suit was dry for the postgame media availability, we’re going to assume there wasn’t a Gatorade bath.
Mike Sullivan will go for 301 on Saturday when the Penguins finish their two-game set against the Buffalo Sabres at Key Bank Arena.