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Bryan Rust is the Penguins’ clutch war horse in postseason play

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It goes without saying that winger Bryan Rust proves himself as Mr. Clutch as soon as the stakes are heightened in the postseason. Hopefully he keeps the gravy train rolling against Washington.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game One Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ever since the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs began and Bryan Rust returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins roster after suffering from an injury via a slap shot to the hand, Rust has consistently shown his ridiculous offensive value in the postseason. Though this feature is late, his habit of being clutch when the stakes are high deserves the utmost recognition by this Penguins blog. It also goes without saying that Pittsburgh will need Rust’s offensive stamina to remain fruitful with the gargantuan challenge it faces in top-seeded Washington Capitals starting tonight.

Rust’s ability to be strikingly elite in important games is nothing new. After making his mark with Notre Dame from 2010-14, then playing for the AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins following the 2013-14 season, he signed with Pittsburgh in 2014. The 24-year-old winger strung together several impressive games in his first couple years — specifically his first career two-goal performance against the then-Tampa Bay goalie Evgeni Nabokov in 2014. What Rust may be more celebrated for now is his two-goal, game-winning performance in Game 7 of last year’s playoffs against the Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos-led Lightning. Those couple of tallies decidedly kept the Penguins’ 2016 playoff hopes alive. From there, Rust built himself into an electric player and established his offensive game as one to keep a keen eye on moving forward. What we’re seeing now as a fan base is an exceptional player making his way into the start of his NHL prime right in front of our eyes on the league’s biggest stage.

What’s so intriguing about Rust is how he turns on the jets in the playoffs and plays completely out of his mind. In the regular season, the winger averaged a goal about every 5.6 games. Not too shabby. However, in the postseason, he’s notching one every 3.25. He was even the first Penguin to score in these playoffs — a tally in Game 1 against Columbus that Pittsburgh would go on to win 3-1. Naturally, he’s being very humble about his recent play.

“I’m not sure why that is,” Rust told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about his success in the playoffs. “I guess it’s just that time of year that everybody just elevates. I’m being the beneficiary right now.”

His placement on the second forward line with Evgeni Malkin returning as his center and Phil Kessel as his opposite winger has made Rust a prolific goal scorer in the playoffs once again. Just as the “HBK” line was lucrative last season, it seems this line will create loads of offensive chances this series against the Capitals and (hopefully) beyond, mirroring what Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel did.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Three Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

With both Malkin and Rust back from injury, the two great playmakers have shouldered a lot of the production, and that goal-scoring gravy train has alleviated a good chunk of pressure off the Crosby line. So far, other than Conor Sheary being a bit quieter than usual, that’s been great. Just ask Jake Guentzel.

Rust has eight goals in his last 13 playoff games. In Game 5 against the Blue Jackets, he locked down his third multi-goal postseason game. The guy is the first player in franchise history to score multiple goals in three series-clinching wins. Those are some pretty good accomplishments.

Needless to say, Rust continuing to play like he is may be one of the deciding factors of this series against the Caps. There’s a good chance these games end up being high-scoring with the offensive skill each team possesses, and beating Braden Holtby as much as they can will bode well for Pens.

Rust will surely be one of the guys leading the charge.