The Pittsburgh Penguins have some of the biggest names in hockey on their roster.
But it’s been Bloomfield Hills native Bryan Rust, who spent much of this season in the minor leagues, who has produced some of the biggest moments.
It was Rust who scored both goals in Wednesday’s 2-1 Game 7 victory over Tampa Bay, just as it was Rust who scored twice in the series-clinching Game 5 win over the New York Rangers in the first round.
The Birmingham Brother Rice alumnus, who played in the Ann Arbor-based USA developmental program, has been a revelation these playoffs.
“If there was a way you want to write it up when you’re a kid, this is kind of how it goes,” Rust told reporters after the Tampa Bay victory.
Rust, 24, played college hockey at Notre Dame and spent much of this season in Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh’s minor league affiliate, before joining the Penguins on January 9.
A speedy wing who brings energy to any line, Rust isn’t normally known as an offensive force.
But playing with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz (Ferris State), Rust has found his offensive game in the playoffs.
After scoring five goals in 55 regular season games over two seasons, Rust has five goals alone in these playoffs.
“I’m not sure Rusty would have been the guy I would have picked,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Rust’s Game 7 offensive outburst. “But certainly I love what he brings to this team and couldn’t be happier for him for his effort and his contribution as far as how he’s helped this team win for four or five months now.
“To see him get rewarded with a couple of goals is a thrill for all of us because he’s such a great kid and he plays so hard.”
Rust is trying to fit in while playing with Malkin, one of the premier passers and stars in the league.
“I’m just trying to roll with it,” Rust said. “I’m getting more and more chemistry with my linemates as time goes on, and if you get some chemistry with Geno, good things are going to happen.”
FIVE STORY LINES
1. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were the first two overall picks in the 1997 Entry Draft — Thornton by Boston and Marleau by San Jose.
Thornton was traded to the Sharks in 2005. For both veterans, it’ll be their first time in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The two have received the brunt of the criticism from Sharks fans and the media over the last decade as the organization has encountered one playoff failure after another, none worse than losing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles two seasons ago.
Can the two veterans reverse years of frustration and disappointment?
2. Sidney Crosby returns to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the Penguins defeated the Red Wings in 2009.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for Crosby.
Over the first 28 games, Crosby had 19 points and there was much speculation he was on the downside of his career.
But Crosby exploded for 66 points over the season’s final 54 games and was a major reason the Penguins were one of the league’s best teams the second half.
3. It hasn’t been Crosby or Malkin who have carried the Penguins during these playoffs.
Pittsburgh’s best line has been Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, nicknamed the “HBK Line.”
In particular, Kessel has been a revelation.
Traded by Toronto to the Penguins last summer, Kessel arrived with a lot of baggage. He was player who never fulfilled expectations and was a career underachiever.
But Kessel has thrived in Pittsburgh, leading the team with nine goals and 18 points in these playoffs and is a leading a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP).
4. Two young goalies are leading their teams into these Finals.
San Jose’s Martin Jones completed his first season as a No. 1 goalie and has been a calm, steadying force throughout the playoffs.
His 2.12 goals-against average and .919 save percentage rank among the NHL’s playoff leaders, and Jones leads all playoff goalies with three shutouts.
Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray has replaced Marc-Andre Fleury as the Penguins’ No. 1 in the playoffs.
Murray took over the starter’s role late in the regular season after Fleury suffered a concussion.
Murray has a 2.21 GAA and .924 SVS, while showing incredible poise for a 22-year-old goalie who spent most of this season in the minors.
5. Former Plymouth Whalers coach Peter DeBoer takes a second NHL team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
DeBoer coached New Jersey to the 2012 Finals (they lost to Los Angeles in six games) and now has the Sharks four victories from the Cup.
DeBoer sees similarities between the two teams he’s guided this deep in the playoffs.
“Right place, right time,” DeBoer said. “Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different.
“I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there.
“When you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group, they’re (angry), they’re embarrassed by the year they just had, and they’re willing to do and buy into whatever you’re selling to get it fixed again.
“I was the benefactor of that.”
STANLEY CUP FINALS
Pittsburgh vs. San Jose
Records: Pittsburgh 48-26-8 (104 points), San Jose 46-30-6 (98 points).
Season series: Tied 1-1-0.
Pittsburgh’s road to Finals: Defeated N.Y. Rangers in five, Washington in six and Tampa Bay in seven.
San Jose’s road to Finals: Defeated Los Angeles in five, Nashville in seven and St. Louis in six.
Ted Kulfan’s prediction: Finally, veterans Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton earn the Stanley Cup. San Jose in 6.
All games at 8 p.m.; Games 5-7 if necessary.
Game 1: Monday, at Pittsburgh (NBC, CBC)
Game 2: Wednesday, at Pittsburgh (NBCSN, CBC)
Game 3: Saturday, at San Jose (CBC)
Game 4: Monday, June 6, at San Jose (CBC)
Game 5: Thursday, June 9, at Pittsburgh (NBC, CBC)
Game 6: Sunday, June 12, at San Jose (NBC, CBC)
Game 7: Wednesday, June 15, at Pittsburgh (NBC, CBC)