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Decade Review: Bryan Rust's 2016 Eastern Conference Final Goal

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

While I didn't want to get ahead of myself - especially since I'm an incredibly superstitious person - deep down, I knew that the Penguins were going to win the Stanley Cup in 2016. 

It's a feeling that's hard to explain, but when you work for a team and are around them every day, you know when they have it and when they don't. You can tell by their body language on and off the ice, and what they say and how they say it in media interviews. 

In 2016 the Penguins felt like a team of destiny, for so many reasons. After watching the Penguins lose in different ways for five years in a row, I knew this team would ultimately find a way to win. The only time that doubt truly started to creep into my mind was during the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay, after the Lightning gained a 3-2 series lead. 

For the first time during postseason action, the Penguins were facing elimination. And their goaltending situation, once considered a strength of the team, was even murkier than before with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray both struggling during the series. To make matters worse, they had to go on the road for Game 6. However, Evgeni Malkin guaranteed that the Penguins would be coming back home for Game 7. Lesson learned - always listen to Geno.

Less than five minutes in, the Lightning appeared to take a 1-0 lead on their first shot of the game after Jonathan Drouin scored into an open net. But an alert Pascal Dupuis, sitting next to us Penguins staffers high up in the press box, shouted, "He's offside!" Dupuis stood up and emphatically pointed to a monitor hanging above. "He's offside!"

Down below, Penguins video coach Andy Saucier realized it too, and radioed assistant coach Rick Tocchet, telling him to challenge the play. The Penguins did, and the call was overturned. Instead of the Lightning gaining an early lead and gaining momentum, the game remained scoreless. The Penguins went on to build a 3-0 lead going into the second intermission, including a sick goal from Sidney Crosby where he skated through a sea of four blue jerseys. 

Tweet from @penguins: Sidney Crosby may be in the eye of the storm, but he can weave through Lightning. pic.twitter.com/1BRUBt7NCR

But the Lightning pushed back in the third and cut the Pittsburgh lead to 3-2 with 7:17 left in regulation. At that point, I was downstairs outside of the Penguins locker room so that I had a good position at the front of the line to go inside for post-game media availability, watching the in-arena feed from another hanging monitor above where the spare nets were stored. And it's at that moment I started to feel uneasy. The Lightning had plenty of time to even the score, especially if they pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. They had the crowd behind them and the momentum back on their side. 

I was nervous.

But with just over two minutes left to play, Chris Kunitz hit Bryan Rust with a pass for a breakaway. Rust deked Andrei Vasilevskiy to the ice and slid the puck around him to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead. And it's at THAT moment any doubts that I had dissipated, standing in the bowels of Amalie Arena, watching a tiny TV monitor while holding a PensTV microphone and my recorder while surrounded by other members of the media.

Tweet from @penguins: Thank you for stopping the stress, @rustyyy_92. You don't know what it means to all of us. pic.twitter.com/8cLKVsJBmm

Almost four years later, when I think back on that entire postseason run, that goal is the one that stands out to me the most. With the Penguins' season on the line, Rust - such a young player at the time - stepped up with a gut-wrenching goal that opened it up for a do-or-die winner-takes-all situation back in Pittsburgh. I know that was just a prelude to his Game 7 heroics, but that goal means more to me personally.

Tweet from @penguins: Hornqvist: "We aren't done yet."Be here for #PensIn7: https://t.co/oHbIEM0p3P pic.twitter.com/zcDh0OLKsH

After the excitement and the adrenaline wore off and I was sitting on my couch in my living room the next morning, it hit me. The Penguins were going to the Stanley Cup Final, and they were going to win. Once I actually admitted it to myself, I got very emotional, and cried happy tears. I couldn't have been more thrilled for that group.

The Penguins were arguably the most successful NHL franchise over the last decade (2010-19). They made the playoffs every season while becoming the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in nearly 20 years. The team provided many memorable moments over that 10-year span. In this Decade Review series website writers Sam Kasan and Michelle Crechiolo, who have been with the team the entire time, highlight the 10 storylines and moments that stand out to them from the past 10 years.

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