The playoff push has already started for the Pittsburgh Penguins and they scored a huge victory on Tuesday night with a gutsy 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. It helped move the Penguins back into the top-eight in the Eastern Conference — for now — and came on a night where they were badly shorthanded on the back end and were playing one of the teams they are in a fierce fight with for a playoff spot … and one that just pushed all of its chips to the center of the table in a quest for a deep playoff run.
Coming out of that situation with two points was massive.
It was also costly.
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The Penguins’ list of injured players continued to grow during the game when they lost forward Bryan Rust (lower-body) and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (upper-body) to injuries that, in the words of coach Mike Sullivan, are going to keep them out of the lineup “longer team.”
Rust is the big injury here because he is such a vital part of the team’s forward group. He is a versatile player that fits in any role, plays up and down the lineup across all four lines, and has been playing some incredible hockey over the past couple of months. After a brutal start to the season that saw him record just one goal and six assists in his first 29 games.
In the 33 games since he has scored 16 goals to go with eight assists and has already set a new career high in goals scored.
He was injured on Thursday night when he was slammed into the boards by one of the Blue Jackets’ newest additions, defender Adam McQuaid.
He skated off the ice under his own power but was clearly in a great deal of pain and did not return.
Ruhwedel’s injury is a concern because, well, the Penguins are simply running out of healthy bodies on the blue line.
They are already playing without three of their top-four defenders with Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Olli Maatta all currently sidelined due to injuries. Sullivan said on Wednesday that Letang and Dumoulin are progressing, but that neither is skating and ready to return yet. Maatta is still expected to be out for a few more weeks.
The Penguins are expected to get Erik Gudbranson in the lineup for Friday’s game in Buffalo after acquiring him at the trade deadline in exchange for forward Tanner Pearson. After playing in Buffalo on Friday, they head to Montreal for a massive game against the Canadiens on Saturday night. Getting through that stretch with this defense and this injury situation is going to take a lot.