“This is a little unexpected,” Rust smiled of the attention. “It’s a little bit new to me.”
Once there, Rust gave the media an update on his status. He left in the third period of the Pens’ 3-2 win in Game 1 on Monday after taking a high hit from Sharks forward Patrick Marleau.
“I feel good so far, but just going to take it through the afternoon and see how I feel come game time,” Rust said.
Marleau received a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head, but did not receive any further supplemental discipline from the league.
“The hit is what it is,” Rust replied when asked his thoughts. “The league looked at it. They dealt with it. They did what they thought was right. I didn’t really take much time to look at it or think about it.”
Head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed that the rookie forward will be a game-time decision. Rust said that while obviously he wants to play, he reiterated that they need to see how he feels after the skate and moving through the day.
“It’s just talking with the trainers, talking with the doctors and just making sure I’m ready to go,” said Rust, who did not partake in Tuesday’s optional practice but did skate on his own.
The Pens certainly hope he will be, as the 24-year-old has gotten better and better as the playoffs have progressed.
After converting a breakaway in the Pens’ Game 6 win over Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final, Rust scored both goals in their 2-1 win in Game 7 to earn them a berth to the Stanley Cup Final. He continued his hot streak by opening the scoring 12:46 into the first period on Tuesday.
Rust’s six total tallies lead all NHL rookies so far these playoffs – not bad for a kid who spent the first half of the season down in the American Hockey League with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I think what we see with Rusty is just his skating ability, his speed, his tenacity on the puck, his compete level,” said Sullivan, who was his head coach down there through December. “And he’s got a sneaky shot. He can shoot the puck. When you think of those attributes, I think it all adds up to someone that has the potential to score.
“He’s scored a few goals here throughout the course of the postseason; his confidence is probably at an all-time high and that helps. But certainly he’s a guy that we have viewed all season long as someone that can help us generate offense whether he’s scoring himself or he’s creating opportunity for his linemates through his foot speed, through his tenacity, forcing turnovers and things of that nature.”
GETTING TO THEIR GAME – AND STAYING THERE
That’s exactly what Rust did in Game 1, helping the Pens set the tone and establish how they want to play early. They’ve said time and time again that their competitive advantage is their speed, and they blew the Sharks out of the water with their quickness – which resulted in Pittsburgh taking a 2-0 lead.
However, the Pens got away from that in the second, where they sat back more and allowed the Sharks tie the game after 40 minutes.
“It’s tough,” defenseman Ian Cole admitted of playing aggressive with a lead. “You don’t want to mentally skate yourself out of the game, and give up defensive chances. There’s a certain pace we want to play at. We want to do it smartly. We want to do it calculated.”
However, Cole does feel that the Pens have the ability to sustain that quickness throughout the course of a game.
“The pace we want to play at can’t be matched by many teams,” he said. “Not only the pace we play at, but the duration we’re doing it is one of our huge strengths.”
The line echoed throughout the room over the past couple of days was that they got away from their game by trying to play in front of the Sharks instead of behind them.
“We’ve got to just keep going forward,” center Nick Bonino said. “If they want to jam the neutral zone or try to stop us up, we have to get pucks behind them. When we try to make plays in front of their defense and turn it over is when they go the other way. We need to keep our feet moving, get it behind them, keep playing and our speed should be effective.”
Cole said that the Sharks are one of a few teams who can keep up with the Pens. And tonight, they could get a big boost in that regard as fast forward Matt Nieto, who has been out due to injury, will likely slot back into the lineup for Danius Zubrus.
“We haven't decided on line combinations yet, but he brings us speed,” Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer said. “A big part of our team all year. When he went down, we had some great contributions from guys to fill that hole. But he brings some things that are unique to his skill set that we think can help us.”