CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa -- Bryan Rust is a rookie. Rookies aren’t supposed to have playoff impacts.
Especially when they’re recalled from the minors for half a season.
All Rust has done for the Penguins this spring is score six goals, including the opening mark in Game 1 of this Stanley Cup Final.
That goes along with the two goals he tallied in Game 7 that clinched the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay.
Obviously, the Penguins’ 24-year-old speedster isn’t just any rookie -- nine points in 18 playoff games -- which is why his potential absence in Game 2 on Wednesday would be rather significant for Pittsburgh.
“He’s been great for us,” Sidney Crosby said. “Scoring, speed, strong on the puck. We’ll see. If he’s not in, we’ll make sure someone steps up.”
A league source said it’s “60-40” Rust will play in Game 2. He took a shoulder to the head from Patrick Marleau in the third period of Monday’s 3-2 Sharks’ loss.
Rust plays right wing on Evgeni Malkin’s line with Chris Kunitz. After Tuesday's optional practice, Rust skated on his own.
“He is still being evaluated and is day-to-day,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan on Tuesday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
On Tuesday, the NHL Department of Player Safety declined to issue any supplementary disciple to Marleau. In his defense, Rust had his head down on the play.
Sullivan labeled it a “blindside hit to the head” after the game. His reaction at the lack of action by the league on Tuesday?
“I really don’t have an opinion on it,” Sullivan said. “I gave my opinion last night. We’re just going to play hockey. The league does their job and we’re going to do our job and just play.”
Rust went out of the game twice in less than 10 minutes following the hit. You’d have to assume he had gone through the league-mandated concussion protocol and was cleared to return to the ice after the first time he left the bench.
Asked about the thought process that went into allowing him back twice, Sullivan said he went by what his medical staff said.
“The coaches really aren’t involved in that,” Sullivan said. “We rely on the medical staff to take the necessary steps with our players and that’s what they did. I usually get information from our trainer on whether or not a player is available through the course of a game.
“They go through the necessary steps they need to take. With our players, I know our medical staff does a terrific job taking the right, precautionary measure. Our philosophy has always been the health of our athletes first and foremost.
“And our guys take that very seriously. I think they do a terrific job. We trust them that they will do the right things for us and protect our athletes in the necessary way and take their advice on how we utilize them.”
Sullivan moved versatile veteran forward Matt Cullen up the lineup into Rust’s spot the remainder of the game.
“We've used him up and down the lineup all year,” Sullivan said of Cullen. “He can play center. He can play wing. He can play either wing, the left side or the right side. He's a real smart player. He's good at both ends of the rink.
“When he plays with Geno [Malkin], it's another center iceman on the ice, if he has to take a faceoff. To have two center icemen on the ice, especially late in the game when you're defending a lead, I think that gives us more of a comfort level.”
Sullivan’s other option is Eric Fehr, who played on Malkin’s line earlier this spring.
“Regardless of which lines he’s played on, Fehrsy’s had the ability to adapt his game,” Sullivan said. “The one thing he does bring to these respected lines is he’s a center iceman and takes faceoffs in the defensive zone.
“He has real good awareness in the defensive zone. Pretty strong on the wall. So he brings all those elements to that line which we choose to put him on.”
Of course, Sullivan is hoping he doesn’t have to choose anyone to replace Rust, given what’s he meant to his club thus far.
“Rusty, I think his speed is so evident out there,” Sullivan emphasized.