Penguin forward Bryan Rust, right, celebrates after scoring his second goal of the night in the second period against the Blue Jackets on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins eliminated Columbus from the Stanley Cup playofs.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bryan Rust can’t really explain it.
Mike Sullivan called it “a good question.”
Why is it, exactly, that Rust almost always finds a way to score big goals in elimination games?
“As far as success in these games, I don’t know what’s going on,” Rust said Thursday. “Just trying to have fun with it and play hard.”
He added two more to his tally Thursday night in the Penguins’ 5-2 series-clinching win against Columbus. Rust now has seven career goals in nine potential postseason elimination games.
In 112 career regular-season games, Rust averages 0.18 goals per game. In 28 career playoff games, that number creeps up to 0.36 goals per game.
In games where one team could be going home at the end of the night? It’s 0.78.
“He’s one of those guys,” Sullivan said. “High-stakes players. Players that play their best when the games are most important. 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.”
Could it be Rust’s personality? Wanting to take care of business as quickly as possible? Not likely, he said.
“I procrastinate a lot,” he said. “It’s a little bit of the opposite in this situation. I file my taxes at the last possible minute, whenever my mom gets on me. She’s an accountant, so she tends to get on me about that stuff.”
Assuming he got his taxes in on time earlier this week, Rust probably only got congratulations from his mom after the game Thursday night.
His first goal, at 1:07 of the second period, doubled the Penguins’ lead to 2-0.
“Phil [Kessel] found me on the back door, and I got a tip on the first one,” he said. “The rebound kind of popped right back to me and I tried to shovel it into the net, and I was lucky enough to have it go off the post and in.”
Less than three minutes later, he got another after a feed from defenseman Ron Hainsey.
“Unbelievable play [by Hainsey], good heads-up play,” Rust said. “I was able to come down the wing and I was able to fire a shot far side. Their goalie made a really good save on the first one, I got a real fortunate bounce. It came right back too me and I just tried to shovel it in.”
That score gave Rust two goals in a series-clinching game for the Penguins for the third time in his career, joining Game 5 against the New York Rangers and Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in last year’s Stanley Cup run.
“I’ve kind of learned to expect the unexpected,” Rust said.
And as for why, exactly, he always tends to show up big in these moments? Rust and Sullivan aren’t overthinking it. They’re just enjoying it.
“That’s good for our team and that’s good for him as an individual, as well,” Sullivan said. “I think he should find confidence in that. I think it should help him moving forward. Certainly, he’s shown an ability to score some pretty big goals at key times for us.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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