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Sheary breaks through in a big way

by Bryanna McDermott @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

After a magical 2016 playoffs in his rookie season, the 2017 postseason has not been an easy journey for Penguins winger Conor Sheary.

Struggling to produce and find his game, the Massachusetts native found himself as a healthy scratch for Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators.

But Sheary re-entered the lineup in Game 7, had a strong performance and entered Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final ready to build on that.

And did he ever, as Sheary was reunited on a line with Sidney Crosby and scored his first goal of the postseason in a 5-3 Pittsburgh win over the Nashville Predators on Monday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Sixteen minutes into the first period, Chris Kunitz sent a pass from the top of the left circle to a wide-open Sheary at the right of the night, who knocked it passed Preds netminder Pekka Rinne to give the Pens a 2-0 lead.

"'Sid' won a battle in the corner there and gave it up to 'Kuni'," Sheary said. "I kind of saw an opening backdoor and I hoped that Kuni saw me go that way and he did. He made a little bit of a no-look pass to me, and it landed right on my tape. I just had to put it on an open net."

Sitting out two games in the Eastern Conference Final was a humbling experience that gave Sheary time to reflect, refocus and come back even more motivated.

"I think nothing is given to myself," Sheary said. "I think I have to keep working hard and keep competing every night. It's nice to get a goal here in the Final, and, like I said, I hope I can use that as momentum."

The goal is more than just a point on the scoresheet - it's a sigh of relief for a player who has been tested both mentally and physically over this strenuous playoff run.

Prior to this game, Sheary posted just four assists over the playoffs after leading all rookies in assists (6) and points (10) during the 2016 postseason - even notching the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks.

"I was pretty disappointed with myself when I got sat out," Sheary said. "I think I learned a lot from watching. I got a little bit of a rest. I just tried to take it as a positive as much as I could. I just tried to get back to my game as much as I could."

The tally was also Sheary's first goal since April 6 against the New Jersey Devils - the longest goal-drought of his young career.

When being informed of this statistic, Sheary laughed: "I don't think I was aware of that, but it definitely felt like a long time. It was nice to get an open net like I did and kind of break through. I hope that can give me momentum moving forward."

During Media Day on Sunday, Sheary gave credit to veteran teammate Matt Cullen for helping him through the hardships he faced sitting out during the Eastern Conference Final. Cullen took Sheary aside and told him he was an important part of the team.

"He helped me a ton," Sheary said. "There's a lot of experience in this room, a lot of older guys, that told me that I was a big part of this team and that I helped us get here and not to get down on myself. 'Cully' was one of those guys, and I really took that to heart. I think that a guy like that telling you that as a younger guy is pretty cool, and I tried to use that as motivation."

Dad is always right.

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