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Rust's 2 goals help Penguins eliminate Blue Jackets in 5 games

| Thursday, April 20, 2017, 9:45 p.m.

Updated 9 hours ago

Normally, Bryan Rust is a procrastinator.

He doesn't file his taxes, for example, until his mother calls him and prods him to do so just before the April deadline.

"She's an accountant, so she tends to get on me about that stuff," Rust said.

When it comes to finishing off playoff series, however, Rust has a different approach. He believes in not putting off until tomorrow what he can do today.

Rust scored a pair of goals in the second period to back a brilliant 49-save performance from Marc-Andre Fleury as the Penguins secured a 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, closing the first-round Eastern Conference series in five games.

The Penguins will face the winner of the series between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. That series is tied 2-2.

Fans enter PPG Paints Arena before Game 5 of the Penguins' first-round series against the Blue Jackets on Thursday April 20, 2017. For more images from Game 5, visit the Trib's photo gallery.

Photo by Christian Tyler Randolph

 

It was the third two-goal game in a clinching scenario in Rust's young NHL career.

Rust scored the Penguins' only goals in a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season. He also scored twice in a Game 5 clincher against the Rangers in the first round.

"He's one of those guys … high-stakes players, players that play their best when the games are most important," coach Mike Sullivan said. "Rusty has shown that ability in the short time he's been a Penguin. He did that last year all playoffs long for us, and he's continuing to do that again."

Fleury also fit the definition of a high-stakes player Thursday night, making 49 saves — a career high for a regulation playoff game — to pass Tom Barrasso on the team's all-time postseason wins list with 57.

In a game filled with wild momentum swings, he was at his best when Columbus pressed the hardest — the first five minutes of the game, and the second half of the second period, for example.

"The biggest thing was to find the puck," Fleury said. "They always had somebody around. If I can see it leave the guy's stick, I have a better chance of knowing where it's going and being in the right spot. The way our guys battled, our D, they helped me out in front."

The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, had two main laments after seeing a 108-point season end five games into the playoffs.

First, they were upset that a potentially tying goal almost six minutes into the third was waved off due to a goaltender interference penalty on Alexander Wennberg. Second, they regretted that their massive 51-32 shots advantage didn't turn into more goals.

"I think we had over 30 chances, which is just insane," coach John Tortorella said. "We needed to capitalize. We didn't. They did."

The wild momentum swings started from the drop of the puck. After Fleury helped the Penguins withstand Columbus' initial surge, Phil Kessel scored on a short-side wrister from the left faceoff circle on the power play to give the Penguins the lead for good.

Rust's two-goal outburst came in the second period. He scored on a pair of rebounds less than three minutes apart, one on a Kessel shot from the left wing and one after he flew up the right wing and got his own shot on goal.

Columbus fired back, closing to within 3-2 on a William Karlsson backhander from the right wing that rolled up over Fleury's right shoulder and a Boone Jenner airborne rebound whack.

The Penguins finished things off with their final flurry, a bad-angle Sidney Crosby shot from the right wing on the power play and a spinning no-look rebound bid by Scott Wilson 51 seconds apart in the third.

"It was crazy. It was a pretty intense game. Obviously a lot on the line," defenseman Justin Schultz said. "They were coming at us. Their season was on the line. They played well, but Flower was huge."

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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