Sidney Crosby's Penguins, Barry Trotz's Islanders no strangers to pressure of series tied at 2

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May 23—Of the more than 320 players who are taking part in this NHL postseason, only two have appeared in more postseason games than Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Only two defensemen still playing for the 2021 Stanley Cup have played in more than Kris Letang.

Not many active in the league can say they have seen as much as the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And that goes for specific playoff series situations.

Take, for instance, what they face at 7 p.m. Monday. Game 5 of a tied series? Been there, done that for the Crosby-era Penguins.

"We can't wait-and-see and have that type of approach," Crosby told reporters about Game 5. "We've got to go in there and dictate the pace."

For the 10th time under the Crosby/Malkin/Letang regime, the Penguins split the first two games of a postseason series. They have won the series on seven of the previous nine such occasions.

"That's a pretty veteran group over on the other side," New York Islanders leading scorer Mathew Barzal said after his team evened this first-round series with a 4-1 win in Game 4 on Saturday. "Whatever we did (Saturday), they've probably already forgotten about it. They're going to be fresh for Game 5."

Even as three-time Stanley Cup champions since their active NHL-best playoff streak of 15 seasons began in 2007, the Penguins haven't produced works of art in all 31 of their series in that span. They have been swept twice, meekly gone out with just one victory in a series three other times and twice blown 3-games-to-1 leads.

But when the series has been tight as its progressed, much more often than not, the Penguins have prevailed.

"There are momentum swings throughout the course of a seven-game series," coach Mike Sullivan said. "We've just got to make sure that we bring the resilience to our attitude and our effort and our approach here through the ebbs and flows of this series.

"We just have to make sure that we react the right way. I think that there's no higher motivation than there is at this time of year to compete for the Stanley Cup."

In a 2-2 series, motivation shouldn't be difficult to find in a Game 5.

During five of the past six occasions the Penguins were in a series tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 won the series. In four of the six, the Game 5 winner closed it out in Game 6. The Penguins had won five consecutive series that were split after four games — dating to a 2013 first-round matchup with the Islanders — until losing Games 5 and 6 to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 second round.

Leaguewide, dating to the 2019 conference finals round, the past four series tied 2-2 wound up going to the Game 5 winner. Eight of the past 11 NHL series in which the first four games were split, the Game 5 winner took the series. In six of those eight, the winner of Game 5 closed it out in Game 6.

That recent league history mirrors the historical trend of 79% series wins for the team that takes a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven (213 of 271 such teams advance).

The past three decades of Penguins playoffs, though, generally have bucked the trend. The Game 5 loser of a previously tied series involving the Penguins has gone on to win the series almost half the time (nine of 19 such occasions).

But counting on that is playing with fire.

"By (Monday) night after the game, it'll be someone with their backs against the wall," Islanders coach Barry Trotz said after his team practiced Sunday.

Teams Trotz has coached have won six consecutive playoff series that were tied 2-2. That includes in 2018, while with Washington, against the Penguins.

"It's best-of-three. That's it," Trotz said. "And (Monday) we can't worry about getting two wins. We just have to worry about that first shift and then the first period. And we will go from there."

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter .