Tampa Bay Lightning vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Bryan Rust scored two goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins and that was all they needed as the Penguins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 7 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals to win the best-of-seven series 4-3. Pittsburgh advances to meet the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said when asked about the satisfaction of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final despite adversities that his team faced earlier in the season. “I think that’s probably been a big reason why we’ve been able to get to this point, is having gone through that and built that trust and I think we found a lot of momentum there in March and just built off of that and have continued to get better. I think throughout the playoffs, we’ve played different styles with different teams and were able to adjust and still get to (play) our game so, you know the biggest challenge is ahead of us but we’ve got a great opportunity and it wasn’t easy to get to this point so it’d be great to finish it off the right way.”
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who had been out of action since March 31st due to surgery to remove a blood clot from his shoulder, returned to give his team a boost but the Penguins never let him get untracked. On the evening, he had 11:55 Time On Ice but produced zero points. He had two shots on goal on three attempts along with two hits. He also won three of eight faceoffs.
Stamkos will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. There have been strong indications that this was his last game in a Tampa Bay sweater.
After a scoreless first period in which Pittsburgh carried the play, Rust opened the scoring, giving Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead 1:55 into the second period. Evgeni Malkin carried the puck just over the Tampa Bay blue line on the left wing. He left a drop pass for Chris Kunitz, who was standing at the line. Kunitz spotted Rust racing toward the Lightning net in the middle of the zone and hit him with a tape-to-tape pass, which Rust converted with a wrist shot from between the faceoff circles that eluded the glove hand of Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Tampa Bay rookie Jonathan Drouin tied the contest 1-1 with 10:24 to play in the second period. After skating the puck through the neutral zone, he cut toward the middle of the Penguins zone, protected the puck from a Pittsburgh defenseman as he continued to move right to left then unleashed a high wrist shot back across the grain and over the glove of Penguins goaltender Matt Murray. Valtteri Filppula and Victor Hedman garnered the assists on the goal.
If you blinked after Drouin’s goal, you may have missed the next goal, which came off of Rust’s stick just 30 seconds after the game became tied. Malkin had possession of the puck in the right corner in the Lightning zone. He passed it back to Ben Lovejoy at the right point. Lovejoy sent a hard shot/pass off the end boards to the right of Vasilevskiy’s net. The puck bounced off the boards and Vasilevskiy reached out to put his glove on the puck but it hit the side of the net and landed on Rust’s stick. Rust swept the disc past Vasilevskiy’s glove and into the net giving Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead with 9:54 remaining in the second period.
Tampa Bay played better in the third period but Pittsburgh’s puck pursuit and defensive game was too much for them on this night.
“I want to congratulate Pittsburgh and coach (Mike) Sullivan,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They were a really tough opponent. They deserved to win tonight and they did a heck of a job.”
Something that does not occur often enough came when presented with the Prince of Wales Trophy, signifying supremacy of the Eastern Conference, Crosby picked up the trophy and posed for pictures with alternate captains Chris Kunitz and Malkin. In 2008, the Penguins captain followed superstition and did not touch the trophy and Pittsburgh went on to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. The following year, he broke with tradition and touched the trophy and he and his Penguins teammates won the Stanley Cup.
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final has been scheduled for Monday, May 30th at Pittsburgh’s Console Energy Center at 8:00 pm ET (NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
Bryan Rust posted his second career multi-goal playoff game, both of which have been earned in series-clinching wins.
Per Elias Sports Bureau, Bryan Rust is the first rookie in Penguins history to score multiple goals in a Game 7.
Matt Murray is the sixth rookie goalie in NHL history to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes was the last to do it in 2006.
Pittsburgh outshot Tampa Bay 39-17 in Game 7. They outshot the Lightning 269-178 in the series.
Jonathan Drouin (21 years, 60 days) is the youngest player in Tampa Bay Lightning history to score in a Game 7.
Friday’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Schedule:
No Games Scheduled
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.