OTTAWA -- Even now, almost exactly a year later, Bryan Rust has trouble explaining it.
The Pittsburgh Penguins right wing had three Stanley Cup Playoff goals before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, and one of them came in Game 6 of that series. Then Rust scored both goals in a 2-1 win that sent the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final, where they won the championship.
"Being able to do that is a feeling you can't really put to words, I guess," Rust said Wednesday. "It was awesome to be able to help the team out like I did and, hopefully, I can do it again or I'm sure somebody in the locker room is going to step up and they'll do the same thing."
That's what the Penguins will need in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). This time a berth in the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators and a bid to become the first Stanley Cup champion to repeat since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings are hanging in the balance for Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh would have preferred to win the series in Game 6 in Ottawa on Tuesday, but lost 2-1 despite outshooting the Senators 46-30. Unable to avoid another Game 7, the Penguins are embracing the opportunity with the positive experience from last season.
"We've been there before," Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen said. "We've gone through this. We know what to expect out of our group. We have a comfort level with our plan and the way that we need to play. These are the fun games to play, so as a group we go into it with a lot of confidence knowing that we're going to need our best game and expecting that we'll bring it."
Video: Breaking down Senators' win in Game 6
This will be the seventh Game 7 for Cullen in the NHL and he's never lost one. He acknowledged Wednesday that if his Game 7 winning streak doesn't continue, this could be his final NHL game. He'll turn 41 on Nov. 2 and has put off retirement twice to sign one-year contracts with the Penguins.
"These are the games that when you're a kid growing up that you're playing in the backyard, the Game 7s," Cullen said. "So for us as players this is what it's all about. It's a different level of intensity, it's a different level of excitement and when you get it, you move on."
Cullen said he remembers all of his previous Game 7s well, but the one that stands out the most came with the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers. He had two assists in a 3-1 win to get his name on the Stanley Cup for the first time.
"I'll never forget that one," he said. "That was fun. That was a special one. That's the ultimate."
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray has similar feelings about Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning last season. That is the lone Game 7 experience of the 22-year-old's NHL career. He wasn't tested often, but was sharp, finishing with 16 saves.
"I'll definitely use that and draw on that to prepare for this one," Murray said. "It's just kind of everything comes down to one game and you take things one shift at a time, one save at a time and focus on what you can control."
Video: Previewing potential Stanley Cup Final matchups
After sustaining an injury prior to Game 1 of the first round, Murray made it back in time to back up Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 7 of the second round against the Washington Capitals, which Pittsburgh won 2-0. He found playing in a Game 7 a lot easier than watching from the bench.
"I feel like when you're watching you feel a little bit more helpless, so maybe that's why I was more nervous," Murray said. "But the whole time when I was hurt and I was watching, I definitely get a little bit more nervous in the stands than I do on the ice."
Murray watched Fleury make 29 saves and Rust score the winning goal 8:48 into the second period. Rust didn't have a point in the first six games of that series but came through again when the Penguins needed him most.
How remains a mystery to him.
"I've got no idea," he said. "It's just kind of happens to work out that way. I try to go out there in those games and work as hard as I can and I've been able to be fairly fortunate and be the beneficiary of some pretty good plays."