Stanley Cup winner says Penguins would’ve defeated Rangers in playoffs

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Rust believes that the Pittsburgh Penguins would’ve defeated the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this postseason.

“I think we would’ve beat the Rangers. Oh yeah,” Rust told Ninja on a Twitch stream Wednesday. “It would’ve depended on a couple factors, but I think we would’ve beat them.”

However, the Penguins’ 88 points were not enough to qualify for the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, three shy of the 91 put up by the Washington Capitals, who claimed the second wild card from the Eastern Conference with three straight wins to close out the regular season.

“I think it’s a matchup thing. There’s just some teams you do well against and there’s just some teams you don’t,” the Penguins forward explained. “I feel like the Rangers would’ve been good for us, if we could’ve figured out our penalty kill against their power play.”

For what it’s worth, the Rangers finished 26 points ahead of the Penguins this season and took two out of three in their season series.

The two rivals last met in the postseason in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Rangers rallied to win the series on an Artemi Panarin overtime winner in Game 7, after trailing the series 3-1.

However, the Penguins do boast future first-ballot Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby, a notorious Rangers killer. In 113 regular-season and postseason games against the Blueshirts, Crosby is well over a point-per-game pace, notching 139 points and 48 goals.

Crosby helped lead the Penguins to series wins over the Rangers en route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2008 and a Stanley Cup championship in 2016. Rust helped the Penguins win consecutive Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017.

“If we could have figured out our special teams a little bit, I think we would’ve had a chance,” Rust added. “Our power play was absolute trash all year.”

The Penguins posted the third-worst power play percentage in the NHL, converting at a 15.3 percent clip in 2023-24. However, Pittsburgh was tied for the 10th-best penalty kill in the League with an 80.7 percent success rate.

The Rangers had the third-best power play and penalty kill in the NHL during the regular season.

Related: Stephane Matteau, friends celebrate 30th anniversary of iconic Rangers goal

Bryan Rust shares thoughts on Rangers, Panthers

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh likely would have posed a tougher matchup than Washington, which was swept in the first round by the Rangers this spring.

Despite trading star winger Jake Guentzel to the Carolina Hurricanes at the NHL trade deadline, the Penguins found a late boost in April. Ironically, it started with a 5-2 win over the Rangers at MSG, led by a three-point game from Crosby and two goals from Rust.

They posted a 6-2-2 record in the month of April, but dropped key games to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and New York Islanders, falling just short of a wild-card berth.

“I think every other team that was fighting for a spot would’ve put up a significantly better fight,” Rust said when asked if the Detroit Red Wings could’ve taken a game from the Rangers. “But that’s why you play 82 games during the regular season, you gotta be better than [Washington], and they found a way to get in.”

The Capitals clinched a playoff berth with a -37 goal differential, the lowest of any playoff team since 1991. Pittsburgh and Detroit both finished the year with +4 goal differentials.

On paper, both the Penguins and Red Wings have significantly more star power than the Capitals. The Penguins have aging stars in Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang. Meanwhile, the Red Wings boast a stacked top-six that includes Dylan Larkin, Patrick Kane, and Alex Debrincat with Moritz Seider on the blue line.

While on the Twitch stream, Rust took some time to talk about the Florida Panthers, who are currently tied 2-2 with the Rangers in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final.

“The Panthers are a good team. They’re probably my most hated team in the League by far. They’ve got some guys on their team — they’re ratty and they’ve got a lot of them. It makes them kinda the villains of the League.”

Rust wouldn’t go as far as to name names, but it might not come as a surprise given how chippy and physical the Panthers play up and down the lineup, both in the regular season and postseason.

However, Rust did show some love for one Panthers player in particular. Asked about his favorite players to watch in the postseason, the Pittsburgh winger shined a light on Florida’s 57-goal-scorer Sam Reinhart.

“The subtle things he does to get body position, to get his stick free, to kinda pop at the right times, make the right plays, all of his timing stuff, you kinda nitpick that, and you can see why he scored 50-whatever goals this year.”

Reinhart scored the game-winning overtime goal against the Rangers in Game 4 on Tuesday and ranks sixth in the NHL with eight playoff goals.

The Penguins were likely going to be in the headlines regardless this offseason as they’ve got a big decision to make with Crosby set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Rust making headlines on a Fortnite Twitch stream with Ninja may not have been on everyone’s bingo card, but it’s far from the last thing we’ll hear about from the Penguins this summer.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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