WASHINGTON – If ever there was a sequence that summed up Bryan Rust, his 100th career goal on Saturday night was it.
Off a Capitals faceoff win, defenseman Dmitry Orlov uncorked a one-timer. Rust stepped into the lane to absorb the shot square off his leg. As the Penguins’ bench began offering stick taps in appreciation for the painful defensive play, Rust scooped the puck and raced ahead on a breakaway. He took Capitals goalie Ilysa Samsonov to Dangle City with a nifty forehand-to-backhand move.
That play was Rusts’ second unassisted goal of the game. That run support was more than enough for Tristan Jarry, who recorded 23 saves for his second shutout of the season to power the Penguins to a 3-0 victory over the Capitals at Capital One Arena.
Pittsburgh and Washington entered Saturday night tied atop the East Division standings with 69 points each. The Penguins (71 points) have now taken sole possession of first place after sweeping the two-game series against the Capitals, who were without Alex Ovechkin and defenseman John Carlson.
OK, now let’s get back to Rust for a minute, because that second-period goal really had it all. Selflessness. Speed. Skill.
And it was a milestone, which was fitting. Earlier this season, when Rust enjoyed another milestone moment, he said that each one presents an opportunity to look back and reflect on his career. This sequence was like watching his career evolve in real time.
The first half of the play is exactly what earned Rust an opportunity in this league as a somewhat undersized, mid-round pick who wasn’t afraid to trade pain for playing time. Because of the second half of it, with skill to match his speed, he’s ascended to become a focal point on Sidney Crosby’s wing.
The two-goal night moves Rust into a tie for the team lead with Jake Guentzel, who also has 22. Over the last two seasons, no Penguin has scored more than Rust, who led the club with 27 goals last year.
The Penguins took a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the first period. Garnet Hathaway fell down at the blue line, giving Rust the puck and nothing but open ice in front of him. Rust was deemed the team’s mustache boy earlier this year when he failed to score in a shootout competition at practice. Not this time. He beat Ilya Samsonov under the glove for his 21st goal of the season and 99th of his career.
Rust’s second goal came just 26 seconds into the second period. Then, mid-way through the second, Jeff Carter extended the lead to 3-0.
When he was acquired at the trade deadline, he described his game as simple. This goal was just that. He won a faceoff, got to the front of the net and then waited for good things to happen. They did when Kris Letang’s shot hit Carter and bounced in.
Late in the third, the Penguins’ defensive corps took a blow. Jarry went to clear a puck and caught Matheson in the face. He immediately collapsed into the ice, with blood gushing from his face. He did not return for the third period.
The Penguins have plenty of practice playing short-handed, as it seems they’re losing players on a nightly basis. They shut the door to close out the shutout.
The game also represented the eighth and final meeting between these two rivals this season. The Penguins swept the two-game series and finished the season series with five wins in eight meetings.
The Penguins continue their road trip with a two-game series in Philadelphia followed by a pair of games in Pittsburgh against the lowly Buffalo Sabres to close out the year. Washington, meanwhile has five games remaining – two against the Ranger, two against the Flyers and one against Boston.
Depending how the rugged East Division shakes out, there’s a decent chance Saturday won’t be the last time the Penguins see the Capitals this season.
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