PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Penguins rookie forward Bryan Rust had the night of his life Thursday.
Rust scored twice in the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final at Consol Energy Center. He could have scored more, but two goals was enough to help the Penguins win 2-1 and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2009.
After the game, reporters surrounded the 24-year-old's locker as he spoke about a childhood dream. Rust soaked it in, smiled and laughed nervously.
Video: Rust talks to the media following the Game 7 win
He then managed to reign in his excitement and look ahead to Pittsburgh's one final test, the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks, which begins with Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"It's definitely something that you always think about as a kid, making the big impact in the big game like this," Rust said, "but the big dream is still yet to be achieved."
After a scoreless first period, Rust scored 1:55 into the second and again at 10:06, 30 seconds after Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin tied the game 1-1. After scoring five goals in his first 55 regular-season games the past two seasons, Rust has five goals in these playoffs, the most by a Penguins rookie since Jan Hrdina scored four in 1999.
"With [Rust's] speed, he's really able to push the pace and he's showing that he's able to finish too," captain Sidney Crosby said.
Rust has scored two goals in two of Pittsburgh's three series-clinching games this postseason. He also scored twice in a Game 5 win against the New York Rangers in the first round.
Video: TBL@PIT, Gm7: Rust bangs rebound past Vasilevskiy
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan admitted that with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel at his disposal, he did not expect Rust to carry the load offensively.
"I'm not sure that [Rust] would have been the guy that I picked," Sullivan said. "…But certainly, I love what he brings to this team and I couldn't be happier for him, for his effort."
Since replacing Eric Fehr at right wing alongside Malkin and left wing Chris Kunitz, Rust's development into a legitimate goal scorer has accelerated. Rust scored three goals with the Penguins facing elimination in each of the past two games and credited his linemates for that production.
"I was confident with the puck," Rust said. "I was confident with my linemates and how we were meshing. I had two tonight and probably could have had more if I could've finished on a few more chances."
Rust is right. He could've had more.
Video: TBL@PIT, Gm7: Rust fires wrister past Vasilevskiy
Early in the third period, Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn did well to break up Rust's breakaway attempt before he could get a shot off on goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. He had another golden opportunity 6:42 into the third, when he shot over the net on a 2-on-1.
Rust nearly became the first rookie in NHL history to score a hat trick in a Game 7 when he wrapped the puck around Tampa Bay's net 7:08 into the third, but was denied by Vasilevskiy.
"You obviously want to bury that hat trick goal," Rust said. "Not just for myself, but to give the team a little bit bigger of a cushion."
But his teammates were more than satisfied.
"He's a focused guy, he's always working pretty hard in practice to get better," fellow rookie Matt Murray said. "I think with every young player, you see development, if they put in the time, and he definitely does that. He had a real breakout night tonight, and it doesn't really surprise me. We all know that he's a really good player."
The last time the Penguins played in the Stanley Cup Final, forward Max Talbot scored each of Pittsburgh's goals in its 2-1 Game 7 win against the Detroit Red Wings. After Rust's similar performance Thursday, comparisons were warranted.
"Someone said Max Talbot early. It's one of those things where guys rise to the occasion," Kunitz said. "Everyone is willing to be a part of the game. Some guys, for whatever reason, have that extra little bit. The way he shot that puck, he was probably dreaming of that for a long time."