Pittsburgh Penguins’ center Matt Cullen is no stranger to the postseason. He’s been there 11 times in 23 seasons, capturing the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and with Pittsburgh in ’16 and ’17. And he’s there again this year, back with the Penguins and playing a crucial role on a team that finished with 44 wins.
Cullen and his team didn’t start out their 2019 playoff run like they had hoped, losing Game 1 against the New York Islanders, 4-3 in overtime Wednesday night. The Pens now must win four of six games to prolong their season, and perhaps Cullen’s career.
The 42-year-old told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before the season that 2018-19 would likely be his last. He tallied seven goals and 13 assists this season in 72 games (including the Game 1 loss to the Islanders). In fact, Cullen hasn’t had a season in which he appeared in less than 70 games since 2015. He eclipsed 1,500 career regular-season games played this year (1,516), and he’s approaching 150 career playoff games (129).
Fittingly, Cullen is renowned around the league for his durability. Some of the best players in NHL history were well into their retirement when they reached their 40s.
“I feel like there’s a lot of good hockey left,” Cullen told the Post-Gazette after he signed with the Penguins. “I guess there is a little bit of that wanting to prove I can still do it, and it’s a challenge.”
Cullen credited his diet and his unique workout regimen with allowing him to hold his own against players half his age. He also credited his trust in God’s unconditional love.
“Without my faith, I don’t know if I’d still be (playing),” Cullen said.
In the past, fans and media members have questioned their teams signing an aging veteran like Cullen. But Cullen is no longer beholden to the opinions of others. He’s free to train and play as hard as he can, knowing he’s accepted by God and each day is a gift.
“For me, my faith has kind of helped me to let go of a lot of that,” Cullen told CBN.
Cullen has seen a lot change in the league since he played his first NHL game in the 1998-99 season. He’s been a part of seven different franchises, from Anaheim to New York and just about everywhere in between. He’s seen countless teammates come and go.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is God’s plan for his life. That’s why Cullen holds so tightly to Proverbs 3:5-6, which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Whether 2019 will be his final playoff push, Cullen can skate with certainty knowing God is straightening his path.
Cullen and the Penguins will face off against the Islanders in Game 2 on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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