PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Pittsburgh Penguins move on to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Friday when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to CONSOL Energy Center.

Some analysts think the Penguins can go all the way.

But while the guys on the ice get a lot of the credit, there’s one man who has had to make some really tough decisions this season.

Even though he isn’t on the ice, General Manager Jim Rutherford might be the team’s real MVP.

Rutherford pulled all the right strings, and it started after the end of last year’s postseason when he identified a group of players and coaches he wanted. Then, he went out and got them.

Right now, the Pens are in the final four of hockey’s elite, and Rutherford should get a lot of the credit.

“This is the kind of team that I’m comfortable with,” said Rutherford on the eve of the beginning of the Eastern Conference Finals. “The biggest thing for me was in last year’s off-season when we were adding players; we really focused a lot on adding character and leadership.”

Rutherford wanted a team that was very balanced and very deep, and also one that was fast. It’s something he thinks is a recipe for a championship.

“Coming out of training camp, I knew that we had to get quicker, and certainly in the first couple of months of the season, it showed that when we were playing back to back games or three in four nights, our team started to look slow,” Rutherford said.

They’re not slow anymore, but the GM’s biggest move might have been on Dec. 12 when he replaced former head coach Mike Johnston for current head coach Mike Sullivan.

“When we made the coaching change, when Mike Sullivan came in, there was an immediate connection between the players and coach, and his philosophy about how we were going to play the game suited these players,” Rutherford said. “And then, it was just a matter of time when you put that group together, along with that coach, that they even come closer and closer together.”

Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter

But Rutherford and Sullivan still have one tough decision to make. Do they stick with Matt Murray in net or go back to Marc-Andre Fleury?

“I think that situation has been handled extremely well, and the coach will make the appropriate decisions at the appropriate time.

Sullivan did say he would announce his starting goaltender Friday before the game.