TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr has often been the recipient of grief from fans, local sports radio hosts and other pundits who don't like his aggressive style in the offensive zone. But fellow defenseman Jason Garrison said Sustr's desire to make a play should be considered one of his strengths as he continues to grow as a player.
It certainly has been a strength for the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.
The 25-year-old has raised his game during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and helped Tampa Bay take a 3-2 lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the best-of-7 series, scoring a goal in Game 4 and making two smart plays in Game 5. The Lightning won both games 4-3 and will look to close out the Penguins in Game 6 at Amalie Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
On the goal in Game 4, Sustr joined the rush late and noticed the Penguins defense was focused completely on Nikita Kucherov, who was on left side of the zone. Sustr streaked to the net and Kucherov found him with a back-door pass for the goal 14:28 into the first period.
The two plays that led to goals in Game 5 displayed Sustr's increasing awareness of making the right plays while in the offensive zone. He pinched in from the blue line to help Valtteri Filppula win the puck from Penguins forward Nick Bonino and send the puck around the boards to Alex Killorn, who beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a high shot on the short side. Sustr got an assist for his effort.
Video: PIT@TBL, Gm4: Sustr scores off Kucherov's nice dish
On the second goal, Sustr was battling on the boards with Bonino again and kept the play alive, helping Vladislav Namestnikov gain control of the puck and pass it to Kucherov for the goal 14:25 into the second period.
"He's definitely playing his best hockey right now," Garrison said. "He jumps in the play a lot, which is awesome. He's a tall guy. He can see the ice well. So hopefully, more of that to come from him and hopefully a few more back door goals for him."
Sustr, playing his second full season with the Lightning, has a goal and two assists in 15 games this postseason and his plus-7 rating means good things are happening when he's on the ice. He credits his success to his experience in last season's playoffs.
"Just more mature, obviously, I have another season under my belt and having experience from the playoffs last year," Sustr said. "The long run benefits you as a player. What do you have to do? You've got to be aware, when you're on the ice, who's playing against you, and just playing your game and be comfortable with being out there and supporting the rush like I've been trying to lately. Hopefully, I'll be able to continue doing that."
If Sustr can continue his play, the Lightning could advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year. Sustr expects Game 6 to be the biggest challenge he and his teammates have faced this season.
"Sometimes the last game to finish everything off is the hardest," Sustr said. "I think, if we're going to play like we did in Game 4, we're going to need to come out pretty strong and carry it through the whole game, that's going to be key for us to be successful."