(The Sports Xchange) - Sure, Sid and Geno still are around. Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang, too. But these Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t just a team of big names, but one of guys still trying to make a name in the NHL, too.
Bryan Rust, a rookie forward who was in the minors for half the season, scored both Pittsburgh goals and the Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 Thursday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Their 12th win in 18 playoff games this spring sends a team driven equally by stars and rookies to its first Stanley Cup finals in seven years.
“We’ve been trying to get back,” said Crosby, who helped lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009. “It’s not easy.”
This game certainly wasn’t either, especially given the Penguins’ three prior Game 7 losses in Consol Energy Center.
Still, the Penguins dominated in shots and scoring chances and, aided by the steady-as-he-goes play of rookie goalie Matt Murray, finished off a comeback from a 3-2 series deficit to deny the Lightning a return trip to the finals.
“We came out against a really good team that hit its stride late in season and carried that into playoffs,” said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman, who had been 7-0 in Game 7s. “You’ve all seen how well they played, not just against us but in previous two. ... They played better than us the whole series.”
Pittsburgh will play host to the San Jose Sharks in the Game 1 of the finals Monday. The Penguins will be playing in their fifth finals -- they won three of the first four -- and the Sharks will be in their first.
“You always wonder if you’re going to get back,” Kunitz said.
Riding the momentum of their 5-2 win in Tampa in Game 6 on Tuesday, the Penguins dominated the offensive zone play in the first two periods, then held off a Tampa Bay push early in the third.
They relied throughout on Murray, who is 11-4 in the postseason after being expected early on in the playoffs to play only a few games. And Rust, who had only four goals during the season but now has five in the playoffs.
“It’s a real breakout night for him (Rust), but it doesn’t surprise us,” Murray said.