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Penguins Game 7 newbies try to keep nerves in check

PITTSBURGH – Bryan Rust wouldn’t necessarily call it a pregame nap. Not when he expected to spend the majority of it staring at the ceiling of his room, nervous anticipation for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final consuming him. 

This is the first Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 7 for several Penguins players; some of whom are youngsters experiencing their first prolonged playoff run and some of whom are veterans that, for various reasons, haven’t seen much playoff action. Other Penguins have plenty of Game 7 experience.

Rust said he knew this team would be a Stanley Cup contender for that reason. “I thought after about six weeks of being here that this was a close group of guys, a good balance of older and younger. As soon as we all realized that, we knew we could do something special,” said Rust, who scored a breakaway goal in their Game 6 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning to avoid elimination.

Like Rust, rookie Conor Sheary started in the AHL this season with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. Like Rust, his speed has allowed the Penguins to press the tempo and skate teams out of the building, as they did for 40 minutes of Game 6.

And like Rust, he admits that nervous energy is unavoidable for a first-timer in a Game 7.

“You can set goals at the beginning of the year, but you never expect to get there. Especially for a young guy like me that didn’t have any NHL experience,” said Sheary, who has two goals and five assists. “I just have to focus my energy in the right direction, try not to get caught up in the stuff around me.”

Defenseman Justin Schultz is not a rookie. He’s played 266 NHL regular season games with the Edmonton Oilers and the Penguins, arriving in Pittsburgh via trade in February.

In the process, he went from a team that can’t seem to find the playoffs with a road map to a team with designs on winning the Stanley Cup.

“A couple of months ago, I wasn’t having very much fun playing. And now I’m having the time of my life,” said Schultz, who played his first Stanley Cup playoff games with the Penguins. “I knew when I got traded here, there was a chance. And then once I started playing here, I realized how good this team was and the opportunity we have here. I hope we take advantage of it.”

Now, he’ll skate in his first Game 7.

“You watch these games as a kid, and now you’re playing in one. But you try to treat it like any other game I guess,” he said.

There’s another Penguins that’s never faced a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The one that, essentially, could be the difference between success and failure in that Game 7.

“He takes each game as it comes, and he controls what he can. He's a great competitor. He's got a great makeup,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan on goalie Matt Murray. “You know, I believe he's going to continue to do what he's done for us this whole postseason.”

He no doubt has the same expectations for the other Penguins Game 7 newbies.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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