Lose Game 2, and the Penguins are in big trouble. Thats the reality of the situation. You can't ever afford to fall behind 2-0 in a series, especially when those two games are at home. 60 minutes weren't enough and the Penguins and Lightning headed to Overtime. To me, the game had the kind of feel that we might be in for a marathon overtime game that goes into the deep and early hours of the morning. Thankfully, I was wrong, as Sidney Crosby ended the game before 1 minute had expired from the clock. Let's take a look at the play that won the game.
Odd-man rushes have been the lifeblood of this series so far, through two games, for both teams. These two teams are so fast in transition and so skilled, that they don't need much time and space before you find yourself on your heels and in trouble. This play here, crazily enough, was looking like it was going to be an odd-man rush for Tampa Bay, but just that fast, the puck was headed the other way for Pittsburgh and the game was over.
Anton Stralman (who had been very good in his return to playing) was able to read Brian Dumoulin's attempted stretch pass, that he was hoping would hit Sidney Crosby at the blue line.
Stralman read this perfectly, intercepting the puck and creating an odd-man opportunity for the Lightning. A little fumble of the play in transition, when trying to get the puck to Nikita Kucherov gave Dumoulin a chance to redeem himself.
A heads-up play by Dumoulin being there to stick with the play. An even smarter decision, instead of just dumping the puck deep, he took advantage of the time and space that he had and waited to make a play. He knew Stralman was caught up ice, and Victor Hedman was the lone defenseman back.
He makes a great little stretch pass, between Stralman and Kucherov, and hits Bryan Rust, streaking into the play, at the blue line.
Bryan Rust takes the pass perfectly, and this creates the 3-on-1 odd-man rush for the Penguins, with Rust attacking forward, Matt Cullen to his right, Sidney Crosby to his left, kinda lurking in the shadows, letting the play develop, and Victor Hedman back for Tampa Bay.
Matt Cullen tripped himself up a little bit trying to stay onside at the blue line, but he recovered well enough to stay a viable option for Bryan Rust, forcing Victor Hedman to stay honest and squared up for the shot or pass. Crosby shifted briefly to the outside, and this sort of forced Rust to stay in the slot.
Here, Bryan Rust makes perhaps the best decision of his career thus far. Of his three options, he made the right one. Option 1 was to try and get the puck cross-ice to Matt Cullen streaking towards the goal. It would've been an okay play if it were 2-on-1, but Victor Hedman probably would've broken it up. Option 2 would've been to shoot the puck himself. Anyone who has watched Bryan Rust play knows this would've been the least surprising outcome. That's not a bad thing. Just realistic. But he made the right decision with Option 3. That option was to give Sidney Crosby the puck when he wants the puck.
Not only did Rust get him the puck, but he set him up in a position to score and succeed. He slowed himself down, just a bit, and used his body to shield the chance for Hedman to get to this puck.
As soon as he had backed Hedman up a bit, Crosby was ready for the pass, and Rust put it in a perfect spot.
The reverse angle shows even more, how good of a job Rust did to create this play. Stuck in no-man's land for Hedman. Too far away from Rust to be able to break it up, not close enough to Crosby to block the shot or get in the way.
By this point, Cullen was no longer an option, proving that it would've been a bad decision to try and get him the puck. Crosby takes the puck that Rust fed him, and was always going to pick the corner. He didn't even remotely hesitate.
What a remarkable level of skill and strength to be able to elevate this puck with the amount of precision from this angle. Andrei Vasilevskiy had just about the entire net covered, wasn't off of his angle at all, but Crosby found a way.
And just like that, the game is over and its all tied up going to Tampa. It's crazy how a chance for an odd-man rush can be fumbled in just the tiniest manner, and it's going back the other way for a 3-on-1. Hockey can be a fickle game sometimes, and it's a game of inches.
The entire play can be seen below in its entirety:
The Penguins did exactly what they needed to do in Game 2, equalizing in the series with proper execution. They looked sloppy in Game 1, but last night, they looked far from it. Let's hope this can continue on the road in Tampa, where Pittsburgh fans will be forced to remove Penguins gear if they sit in certain sections. How embarrassing.