PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final at Consol Energy Center on Thursday to advance to face the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final.
Rookie right wing Bryan Rust scored two second-period goals. His second goal, which came at 10:06, put the Penguins ahead for good and came 30 seconds after Jonathan Drouin tied it for the Lightning.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had two assists, and rookie goaltender Matt Murray made 16 saves to earn the win.
What we learned: The Penguins' depth, speed and the skill of their best players eventually won out. They were the better team for the majority of the games and controlled the puck for long stretches again Thursday, especially in the second period, when they outshot the Lightning 21-5.
Video: TBL@PIT, Gm7: Vasilevskiy gobbles up Cullen's wrister
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (37 saves) kept the Lightning close but made a costly mistake on Rust's second goal. Rust, 24, had three goals and an assist in Games 5-7, taking his game to another level while playing on Malkin's wing.
The Lightning and Steven Stamkos can keep a secret. They were tight-lipped until the start of warmups, but the 26-year-old center played for the first time since March 31 after recovering from April 4 surgery to clear a blood clot near his right collarbone.
What this means for the Lightning: After taking a 3-2 series lead with a 4-3 overtime win in Game 5, the Lightning had two chances to get the one win they needed to reach the Cup Final for the second year in a row and didn't play well in either game. Now, they potentially face a future without Stamkos, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
What this means for the Penguins: They advance to the Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and will continue their pursuit of their first championship since that 2008-09 season. Captain Sidney Crosby will try to match owner Mario Lemieux and earn his second Cup ring.
Video: TBL@PIT, Gm7: Rust bangs rebound past Vasilevskiy
Key moment: Although the Lightning were being thoroughly outplayed in the second period, they tied it 1-1 on Drouin's individual-effort goal at 9:36. But the Penguins took advantage of a misplay by Vasilevskiy to retake the lead at 10:06 on Rust's second goal of the game.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy's shot from the right point went wide off the end boards and caromed back to the right side of the net. Vasilevskiy tried to cover the puck there but fumbled it, and Rust knocked it in at the right post for the game-winning goal.
Unsung player of the game: Defenseman Olli Maatta continued his resurgence since returning to the Penguins lineup in Game 5. His long stretch pass up to Malkin at the Tampa Bay blue line eventually led to Rust's goal that opened the scoring 1:55 into the second period.
What's next: Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).