The Penguins took the ice for the second period of Saturday’s 6-3, Game 5, series-clinching victory over the New York Rangers at CONSOL Energy Center with the score tied at 2-2.
The Pens finished the frame with four more goals to make it 6-2 thanks to the line of Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and, especially, Bryan Rust.
“We played our brand of hockey,” Rust said of the Pens’ surge. “We played fast, we played hard.”
Five minutes into the second period, the blue-collar trio worked around the crease for their first strike.
Cullen found defenseman Trevor Daley while Kuhnhackl set up for a screen in front of the net. With Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist oblivious to the trickery in front of him, Daley faked a shot before sending a pass to Rust, who was open for the one-timer over the left pad of Lundqvist to make it 3-2.
“I was just kind of expecting (Daley) to shoot it on net and I was looking for the rebound,” Rust said. “All of the sudden, he hits me right on the tape and I was able to score on the empty net.”
The goal marked the first NHL playoff tally for the 23-year-old right-winger. While it was certainly special to score on home ice, it meant even more after missing the end of the regular season as well as Game 1 while recovering from a lower-body injury.
“It feels great,” Rust said. “My family was able to be here, so that was nice. But it’s even bigger to get the win and get the series win. I definitely have some confidence going after tonight.”
Four minutes later, for the second time in this series, Cullen found himself one-on-one with Lundqvist. The 39-year-old centerman produced a very similar result.
Rust tied up Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle while simultaneously shrugging off Derick Brassard. The hard work created a lane for Cullen to pick his spot, eventually beating Lundqvist’s glove to make it 4-2.
“They essentially saved our season,” the veteran said of the Pens’ young guns, who keyed the team’s second-half turnaround. “They’ve been awesome.”
The success of the line can be attributed to what head coach Mike Sullivan calls an “infectious energy.
“I think the kids help the veteran guys with their enthusiasm and their energy,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s infectious.”
But even after a Conor Sheary snipe at the 16:18 mark to make it 5-2 in favor of the home team, Rust couldn’t wait for another chance to ‘party hard.’
He came flying down the ice in a 2-on-1 with Evgeni Malkin against Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei. With Skjei unable to block the saucer pass from Malkin, Rust fired the puck, again, past the glove of Lundqvist to make it 6-2 and ultimately chase the Rangers’ netminder for the rest of the game.
“Coming off injury, it’s tough to get back into the swing of things and play big minutes,” Sheary said of his teammate. “He played a really, really good game tonight. He used his speed to his advantage and got on their D and put a couple in.”
Rust finished the night with two goals and an assist for his first career multi-point playoff game. And after his huge performance, Rust was named the game’s First Star and was swarmed by the media at his locker stall following the game.
“I’m not used to this,” Rust joked of the attention he received.
Would he like to get used to this?
“Yeah, definitely,” he grinned. “Scoring goals is fun, but winning is more fun.”