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Penguins put their trust in Rust

Rookie forward's offense would be missed if he can't play in Game 2 against Sharks

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The mass of reporters waiting for Bryan Rust on Wednesday morning was, to put it mildly, a bit of a surprise for the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie forward. This is not usually the attention he commands, not after a morning skate, not really anytime. 

He was swarmed, surrounded, with microphones in his face. 

"I definitely haven't had this many, but I wouldn't say it's overwhelming, but it's definitely different," Rust said. "It's a little bit of a welcome change." 

The reason for all the attention? Rust's status for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). 

Rust was labeled day-to-day Tuesday, a result of a hit from Patrick Marleau in the 3-2 win in Game 1 on Monday. On Wednesday, Rust had been upgraded to a game-time decision for Game 2, after taking the ice for the Penguins morning skate. 

"Just seeing how things go, and how I feel after the skate and how I feel moving through this afternoon," Rust said. "So far, so good." 

Video: Hear what Rust had to say before tonight's game

The reason for the uncertainty occurred at 4:47 of the third period in Game 1, when Marleau caught Rust with a hit in the Penguins offensive zone. Rust returned for one 35-second shift, taking the ice at 8:36 of the period. But that was all, and he did not return. 

For the Penguins, playing without Rust would be a blow. He has emerged as an offensive threat in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with six goals in 18 games. He is tied with Sidney Crosby in that category and trails Phil Kessel (nine) and Patric Hornqvist (seven) on the Penguins. 

Rust scored again in Game 1, a goal that kicked off the scoring for the Penguins in a two-goal first period in which Pittsburgh dominated. It was his fourth goal in the past three games; he scored twice in a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. 

"I think what we see with Rusty is just his skating ability, his speed, his tenacity on the puck, his compete level," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's got a sneaky shot. He can shoot the puck. 

"When you think of those attributes, I think it all adds up to someone that has the potential to score. He scored a few goals here throughout the course of the postseason. I think his confidence is at an all-time high. That helps." 

The outpouring of offense in the playoffs came after a regular season in which Rust had four goals and seven assists in 41 games. So one might say it was a bit unexpected, though not entirely. 

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm1: Rust bangs puck past Jones for a lead

"Certainly, he's a guy that we have viewed all season long as someone that can help us generate offense," Sullivan said, "whether he's scoring himself or he's creating opportunities for his linemates through his foot speed, tenacity, forcing turnovers and things of that nature, his compete level, his willingness to go to the net. 

"When you go to the net, good things usually happen. He scores a goal in the last game because he goes to the net. So it doesn't surprise me that he scored through this postseason." 

And the Penguins hope that can continue. 

It was determined by the NHL's Department of Player Safety that the hit did not warrant any supplemental discipline for Marleau, beyond the illegal check to the head minor he was assessed on the ice. Via its Twitter feed, the Department of Player Safety explained its decision thusly: "Main points of contact: shoulders, chest. Rust low, off-balance, reaching." It continued, "Marleau does not 'pick' the head, elevate or extend. Head contact is with Marleau's back." 

"(The) hit is what it is," Rust said. "The League looked at it, they dealt with it, they did what they thought was right. I didn't really take much time to look at it or think about it." 

After Rust skipped the optional skate Tuesday, like much of the Penguins, it was a good sign he participated in the morning skate Wednesday. Now, the only question is whether he can take the ice against the Sharks for Game 2. If Rust had a vote, he said, "Obviously you want to play." 

"If he's able to play, it's huge," Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said. "Obviously you don't want to go and be hesitant because he's so fast, he gets into those corners so quickly. I think we have a lot of fast guys on our team, he's a guy who is just as fast as anyone. He can really stretch that neutral zone out for us. 

"He's a special player and adds to our team game, for sure."

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