Pens forward Bryan Rust knows what it's like to play in critical playoff games. Actually, he thrives in such circumstances.
Rust has garnered a reputation for producing on the biggest stage and when his team needs him the most.
The Pontiac, Michigan native has eight goals and 12 points in 13 career elimination games for Pittsburgh. He has three goals in two career Game 7s.
The Pens could use that type of production Thursday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa at PPG Paints Arena. The winner will stamp their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
Rust was the hero of last year's Eastern Conference Final Game 7 against Tampa Bay when he scored the only two goals for Pittsburgh en route to a 2-1 win. He was the first Pens' rookie to notch multiple goals in a Game 7 in team history.
"It was awesome to be able to help the team like I did, hopefully I can do it again," Rust said.
Rust etched his name in Pens' folklore with his Game 7 theatrics, even joking that more people recognized him at the grocery store following the game. But he didn't stop there.
On the current playoff campaign, Rust picked up a goal in the First Round against Columbus in Game 5 to eliminate the Blue Jackets. And in a decisive Game 7 in the Second Round against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, Rust added yet another goal.
"(Rust) is another one of those players for us that has shown an ability to bring his very best when the stakes are highest," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's had a lot of great Game 7s, he's had a lot of great playoff games."
For an explanation as to why Rust always seems to score in Game 7s and elimination contests, your guess is as good as his.
"I have no idea," he laughed. "It just so happens to work out that way. I just go out in those games and work as hard as I can. I've been really fortunate to be the beneficiary of some pretty good plays."
Perhaps it's just these types of environments that bring out Rust's best instincts. Rust truly enjoys playing on the biggest stage and in the biggest games.
"Pressure is good. It makes guys work a little bit harder," Rust said. "It makes guys do things the right way. I think that's going to help our team."
Is it too much to ask Rust to once again put the team on his back in this critical situation? Perhaps. But even if Rust doesn't get his name on the scoresheet, Pittsburgh knows he'll make a difference in the game with his play.
"Our expectation is that (Rust is) going to have a solid game for us," Sullivan said. "Whether or not he scores that's something we can't always control. But what he can do is, and I know Rust knows this, he's going to control his effort, his attitude, his focus, his conviction.
"When a player controls all of those things then he puts himself in the best position to be successful."