It's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and you're looking for a player to be a hero for your team. Will it be Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, or Kris Letang? More often than not, you'd be willing to throw money down that one of those guys is going to come up big. Last night, it was Bryan Rust. Rust, who was drafted by the Penguins in 2010 in the 3rd round, had spent his recent years at the University of Notre Dame before developing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League. And just like that, he's etched his name into Penguins history, scoring two enormous goals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. What a fun story.
Opening the Scoring
After a tight first period in what felt like a chess match, or a boxing match with two opponents just feeling each other out and trying to avoid the big hit rather than lay a knockout punch, it felt like the second period would be different. I myself said that I was expecting a Penguins odd-man rush sooner than later, simply because of Tampa Bay's aggressive approach, compounded with the long line change in the second. This paid off quickly.
The Penguins caught Tampa Bay in a line change and Olli Maatta got it all started for Pittsburgh. A few nice plays from Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin set Rust up for the goal. Let's take a look.
Olli Maatta gets the puck in the defensive zone and sees a ton of space in front of him and takes advantage of it.
When Malkin takes the pass just inside the blue line, Kunitz stays onside and stops just inside the blue line.
Malkin draws a defender, then drops the puck to Chris Kunitz, who holds the puck and draws contact from Ryan Callahan.
As Callahan challenges Kunitz, he holds the puck long enough to let Bryan Rust streak into the zone uncovered and then hit him with a perfect pass.
Once Rust had the puck in the slot, he never considered anything other than picking the corner, and did he ever.
Just like that, it's 1-0 Penguins, but there's an eternity of game time left, and Bryan Rust wasn't done yet.
This entire play can be seen in it's entirety below:
The Game-Winning Goal
Around eight minutes after Bryan Rust opened the scoring, Jonathan Drouin and the Tampa Bay Lightning came back and tied at the game at 1-1. It felt like we might be in for a long night, but Bryan Rust had other ideas. Less than a minute after the Lightning goal, a shot wide of the net from Ben Lovejoy, and Rust smacked home a rebound, that ultimately puts the Penguins back in the Stanley Cup Final. Let's take a look.
Just after the Lightning had scored, the Penguins got the puck back on the forecheck and it started with Malkin behind the net with the puck.
As the puck gets to Lovejoy out at the point, it looks like he just tries to get it on net.
Some say he shot it wide intentionally, some say it took a bounce off of Tyler Johnson, but regardless, the puck going wide wasn't ultimately the vital part, it was the bounce it took off of the boards.
As the puck came off of the boards, it angles right towards Vasilevskiy and the net. Bryan Rust turns perfectly into the play to time his arrival at the crease with the pucks arrival.
Rust finds a tiny little space between Vasilevskiy's pad and glove, and pokes it through.
Talk about finding yourself in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of it.
That tiny little space of just a few inches, just enough for the puck, at the exact right time when Rust was there, and it's 2-1 Penguins.
This entire play can be seen below:
And after 30 more minutes of excruciating hockey that followed this, the Penguins held on for the win and we're onto the Stanley Cup Final. Unbelievable. Bryan Rust. What a performance.