When the Penguins have 3 wins in a playoff series in the Sidney Crosby era, their record is 5-4. They eliminated Ottawa last year and Washington this year on the first time they had three games, but last year the NY Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers fought off sweeps and this season Philly extended their season a game. Update: as did Washington this year.
Fact is, in three of the four games the Pens haven't ended series when they could have they actually got shutout-- and all of those games, like tonight's game came away from the confines of Mellon Arena. So, as obvious as it sounds, getting on the board early could be a major hurdle, if only a mental or subconscious one.
Another important stat is that Pittsburgh is 5-0 in series this era when they do get to three playoff wins. So while they've only gotten the job done on the first try two times, they've always managed to finish off an opponent once getting the commanding series lead.
In the elimination games here's some individual stats when the Pens have their foot on the opposition's throats (which does include the Game 7 when they were up against the wall):
- Crosby: 6 goals, 7 assists
- Evgeni Malkin: 3g, 7a
- Sergei Gonchar: 1g, 4a (8 games)
- Jordan Staal: 4g, 0a
- Max Talbot: 0g, 4a, one game changing fight (7 games)
- Tyler Kennedy: 0g, 4a
- Kris Letang: 3g, 2a
- Bill Guerin: 2g, 1a (4 games)
- Marc-Andre Fleury: 5-4, 2.42 GAA, .907 save percentage, 1 shutout
Fleury has been his usual "very good but not always great", never yielding more than three goals in games when the Pens can eliminate, but in half of the sample size he did give up three goals.
Ever since Dan Bylsma arrived, the Penguins have seemed in catch-up mode, just to make the playoffs. Like Carolina with a similiar coaching change, Pittsburgh's had to rally since February just to make it into the playoffs. We're seeing signs in the media that maybe the 'Canes may be "fatigue[d] from four months of playoff-style hockey", yet Pittsburgh is seemingly just hitting their stride.
To be sure, nothing is decided yet and Carolina will be literally playing for their immediate futures tonight. If the Pens don't match the intensity and work to match that, then they'll probably lose again. But if they've learned anything from past lessons in this situation, we'll see the Penguins killer instinct-- no doubt lead by the best players listed above leading the charge.