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Penguins eliminate Lightning in Game 7 to advance to 2016 Stanley Cup Final

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A rookie propelled Pittsburgh to their fifth Cup Final.

Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a date with the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Pittsburgh rode two goals by rookie forward Bryan Rust to a 2-1 win in a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals that was consistently one of the most thrilling NHL games of the season. It's the fifth Stanley Cup Final appearance for the Penguins and first since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

Much was made of the long-awaited return of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. His impact was minimal (no surprise after missing two months of action) with just two shots. Bryan Rust led the Penguins with two goals on Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who finished with 37 saves. Rust joined a select group of rookies to score two goals in a Game 7.

The two sides traded chances but nothing more early on. An Olli Maatta pass from his own zone freed Matt Cullen for a Penguins breakaway early, but Vasilevskiy shut it down admirably. He made another strong stop on Sidney Crosby a few minutes later. The first period was about as close as you would expect in a Game 7, as both sides bent but didn't break.

The game opened up in the second period. Rust scored his first goal at the end of a pretty passing play by the Penguins to earn a 1-0 lead just 1:55 into the frame.

Jonathan Drouin, as he has for most of the playoffs, came to Tampa Bay's rescue.

The 21-year-old winger drove down the wing into the offensive zone, swung around the defenders and beat Penguins goalie Matt Murray to tie the game at 1-1.

It was Drouin's fourth goal of the series and 13th point of the playoffs.

Rust delivered again for Pittsburgh less than a minute later on a goal that Vasilevskiy probably wants back. An odd bounce off the end boards fell to the side of the net, and Rust's stick got there a split second before Vasilevskiy could cover it up, so the Penguins restored their one-goal lead.

Rust very nearly completed the hat trick in a furious third period exchange. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov overpassed on a breakaway at one end, and Rust countered with a breakaway the other way that just missed the net. Tampa Bay worked hard late to tie it, but to no avail.