What is it with Bryan Rust and elimination games?
The second-year winger scored twice in the Pens' 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 of their First Round matchup to help his team win the series and advance.
He now has seven total goals in nine elimination games in his first two postseasons, including three two-goal efforts (NYR, TBL and now CBJ). He's the first player in franchise history to score multiple goals in three series-clinching victories.
When asked why he seems to be able to step up and score clutch goals, Rust didn't really have an answer.
"I handle it like any other game and try to go out there and work hard," Rust said. "I guess I've been kind of fortunate to go get those bounces and get those plays from my linemates."
Those linemates would be Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, who had a lot of praise for Rust following the game.
"You watch him play, he's fast out there," Kessel said. "He always gets on the forecheck and he's a great two-way player. He's found ways to get it in the net and that's big for our team."
However, when asked about Rust's clutch nature, his head coach Mike Sullivan had more of a nuanced response.
"I answered this question a few days ago about high stakes players, players that play their best when the game is most important," Sullivan said. "Rusty has shown that ability in the short time that he's been a Penguin. He did it last year all playoffs long for us and he's continuing to do that again.
"That's good for our team and good for our team as an individual as well. I think he should find confidence in that. I think it should help him moving forward. But certainly he's shown an ability to score some pretty big goals at key times for us."
His first came just 1:07 into the second period to give the Pens a 2-0 lead.
"Phil (Kessel) and 'Geno' (Evgeni Malkin) made really nice passes to each other and Phil found me on the backdoor," Rust said. "I got a tip on the first one and that rebound popped back to me. I just tried to shovel it right at the net and I was lucky enough to have it go off the post and in."
Rust's second came just 2:43 after his first, and it all started with a pass from Ron Hainsey that he received in the middle of the ice.
"It was an unbelievable play, a good heads up play," Rust explained. "I was coming down the wing and I was able to fire a shot far side. The goalie made a really good save on the first one and I got really fortunate. The bounce got right back to me and I just tried to shovel it in."
While we've come to expect Rust to step up in big games, he said he's learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to postseason play.
"Anything can happen and there are huge momentum swings either way," he said. "Just kind of stay even-keeled throughout the whole game. That's what I have been trying to do."