Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has defended his decision to allow Bryan Rust to return to action just minutes after the rookie forward sustained a suspected head injury during the third period of the Stanley Cup Final opener.
Rust spent less than seven minutes in the quiet room after being flattened by San Jose's Patrick Marleau. He returned to skate one shift before adjourning to the dressing room.
"The coaches aren't really involved in that," Sullivan said at the team's press briefing on Tuesday. "We rely on the medical staff to take the necessary steps with our players. That's what they did. They go through the necessary steps that they need to take with our player. I know that our medical staff does a terrific job as far as taking the right precautionary measures.
"Our philosophy has always been the health of our athletes is first and foremost," he said. "Our guys take that very seriously. I think they do a terrific job. So we trust them, that they're going to do the right things for us, protect our athletes in the necessary way. We take their advice as far as how we utilize them."
There was no update on Rust's health, or his availability for Game 2 on Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).
“He’s still being evaluated,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan would not comment on the NHL’s decision to not fine or suspend Marleau, who was assessed a two-minute minor for an illegal hit to the head. "We're just going to play hockey," he said. "The league does their job, we're going to do our job. We're just going to play."
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The coach was more than happy to open up when the topic turned to the play of Rust and Conor Sheary (photo above). The rookie wingers staked the Pens to a 2–0 first-period lead on the way to a 3–2 victory over the Sharks in Game 1.
"It doesn't surprise me that these guys score big goals," Sullivan said. "They're good players. That's why they're here. They play hard. They play the game the right way. I think they both bring a tremendous amount of speed to our team.
"All of the young guys that have come up I think have done a really good job becoming part of this group and helping this team become a team."
Both players were promoted to the Pens shortly after Sullivan moved up to replace Mike Johnston as the team's head coach in December. He said his experience with them in the AHL helped ease their transition to the NHL.
Greatest NHL Playoff Performances by Rookies
Greatest NHL Playoff Rookie Performances
Matt Murray: Penguins 2016
Taking over for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury, the untested Murray put together a run to the Stanley Cup Final that was remarkable for its cool steadiness. By the time the Penguins were within a win of the Stanley Cup, Murray had gone 5-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average in games after losses. He allowed two goals or fewer in four of those five games, and needed only one more win to tie the NHL postseason rookie record of 15 shared by Patrick Roy, Ron Hextall and Cam Ward.
Brad Marchand: Bruins 2011
Winger Marchand's chippy, fearless game was custom-made for the frantic, desperate pace of the playoffs. Like a speedier, snarkier Stan Jonathan, he cowed the opposition with his goal scoring (11, including a pair in Game 7 of the Cup finals vs. Vancouver) and his fists. His speedbagging of an unresponsive Daniel Sedin may have been the defining moment of that series.
Adam Henrique: Devils 2012
Some players are born to be heroes. Henrique first showed his flair for the dramatic with the overtime winner that sent the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires to the 2009 Memorial Cup Final. Three years later, he became just the second rookie in NHL history to score a Game 7 overtime winner when he clinched New Jersey's first-round win over Florida. Two rounds later, the Devils center was again the OT hero as they eliminated the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. That made him the first rookie to score two series-clinching OT goals in the same playoffs.
Felix Potvin: Maple Leafs 1993
Potvin shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise by the time the 1993 playoffs rolled around. A Memorial Cup finalist, a World Junior gold medal winner and the NHL leader in goals-against average as a rookie, he had a knack for rising to the occasion. He built on that rep in the postseason, leading the surprising Leafs past the Red Wings and Blues in seven games each before succumbing to the Kings in Game 7 of the Campbell Conference Finals.
Pat Flatley: Islanders 1984
A graduate of Canada's then-amateur national team, the 20-year-old winger was brought up to the NHL to add a boisterous physical presence to the Isles. He was plenty rambunctious all right, but by scoring a goal on his first playoff shot he proved he could be more than just a banger. He ended up contributing nine goals and 15 points in 21 playoff games that spring, helping the Isles make it to the Cup finals where their dynasty ended with a loss to Wayne Gretzky and the rising Oilers.
Martin Brodeur: Devils 1994
Brodeur followed his Calder Trophy-winning regular season with a spectacular playoff run for the Devils. Belying his pedestrian 8-9 record, Brodeur was terrific in his postseason debut, posting a 1.95 GAA and .928 save percentage to carry New Jersey to within one game of the Stanley Cup finals before being beaten in overtime by Stephane Matteau of the eventual champion Rangers.
Steve Penney: Canadiens 1984
Penney played in only four regular season games—and went 0-4 with a 4.75 GAA—but he was the surprise choice of coach Jacques Lemaire to open the playoffs instead of veteran Richard Sevigny when starter Rick Wamsley was injured. The 23-year-old responded by leading Montreal past their two most hated rivals, Boston and Quebec, before they finally fell to the Islanders.
Don Maloney: Rangers 1979
After earning a midseason call-up from AHL New Haven, Maloney found himself skating a wing on New York's top unit alongside Phil Esposito and Don Murdoch. The trio, nicknamed The Mafia Line, played a key role as New York battled through the favored Islanders and on to the Stanley Cup finals. Maloney ended up leading all players with 13 assists and set a rookie scoring record with 20 points in 18 games.
Ville Leino: Flyers 2010
Though Leino skated in seven postseason games with the Red Wings in 2009, he was still considered a rookie the following year when he lit up the field as a member of the Flyers. The 26-year-old winger broke Don Maloney's record for playoff assists by a rookie with 14 and tied the rookie mark with 21 total points, a feat that was made even more amazing by the fact that he watched all but one game of Philly’s first round series against New Jersey from the press box as a healthy scratch.
Cam Ward: Hurricanes 2006
The 22-year-old wasn't Peter Laviolette’s first choice as the starter, but after Martin Gerber followed an opening game loss to the Canadiens by allowing Montreal to build a 3-0 lead in Game 2, Carolina's coach had little choice. He handed the reins to Ward who went on to win 15 games, including Game 7 of the Cup finals, as the 'Canes captured their first championship. Ward became just the third rookie goalie to lead his team to a Cup and the second to capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Ron Hextall: Flyers 1987
The NHL's first third-generation player won 37 games as a rookie, but it was his playoff debut that sealed his place in hockey lore. The 23-year-old leveraged his combative style into 15 postseason wins and a near upset of the powerhouse Oilers to become the fourth player, and third goalie, from the losing team in the Cup finals to win the Conn Smythe.
Claude Lemieux: Canadiens 1986
Though remembered primarily as one of the game's most nefarious villains, Lemieux had a knack for elevating his game when the playoffs rolled around. The feisty right winger was never better than in his postseason debut when he scored 10 goals, including four game winners, to help lead the Canadiens to the 1986 Stanley Cup.
Patrick Roy: Canadiens 1986
Despite the middling results of his rookie season (3.35 GAA, .885 save percentage), Roy’s cockiness suggested there was much more to his game. The 20-year-old put it all together that spring, going 15-5 with a 1.92 GAA and .923 save percentage to backstop the Habs to the Stanley Cup and become the youngest Conn Smythe winner in history.
Dino Ciccarelli: North Stars 1981
Overlooked in the NHL draft despite scoring 169 goals in just 214 junior games, Ciccarelli settled for a free agency deal with Minnesota. It didn't take long for the other 20 teams to recognize their mistakes. The fractious winger scored 18 goals in 32 games as a freshman, then set NHL rookie records for postseason goals (14) and points (21) in 19 games to help the North Stars reach the Stanley Cup finals.
Ken Dryden: Canadiens 1971
A college graduate who was more invested in his pursuit of a law degree than living the NHL dream, Dryden was the ultimate hockey outsider. And yet with just six games of experience under his belt he was named starter for Montreal's first-round series against the Bobby Orr-led Bruins. What followed was perhaps the greatest upset in NHL history as the Habs knocked off the defending Cup champs in seven stunning games. Dryden went on to post a 12-8 record and GAA of 3.00 and became the first player ever to take home the Conn Smythe before winning the Calder Trophy.
"I think the fact that I had the opportunity to coach these guys in Wilkes-Barre, see what they were able to accomplish in the 20-something games that I was down there with them, certainly gave me a clearer indication of how I could utilize them and put them in positions to be successful," he said. "So when they did get the opportunity to play in the NHL, I could cast them in the right roles ... and utilize those guys in the most optimum way."
Sullivan also had kind words for another Wilkes-Barre grad, goaltender Matt Murray.
"We think Matt gives us the timely saves we need to give the team a chance to win. He did that for us [in Game 1]. He's done that for us throughout the course of the post-season. He's a big reason why I think this team is still playing to this point.
"I think our players have a lot of confidence in him," Sullivan said. "I think our players have a lot of confidence in all our goalies for that matter. We're a fortunate team that we have the guys that we have back there that we can call on to make those kinds of saves for us."