In past playoff appearances, the Penguins would go only as far as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were capable of taking them. With a completely non-existent depth, an off night or series for one or both of the team's star centers would make winning games and moving on extremely difficult for Pittsburgh. But if there's one things this year's team has that ones in recent memory didn't is a strong group of forwards that can be productive in the offensive zone. The 3rd line of Carl Hagelin-Nick Bonino-Phil Kessel has combined for 7 goals and 16 assists through 10 playoff games against the Rangers and Capitals. Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl have both chipped in 5 points, while Bryan Rust has added 3 points in 9 games.
That's the type of secondary scoring that any team needs to make a Stanley Cup run, but the Penguins have been fortunate to find themselves one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals given that both Crosby (2a) and Malkin (1g, 1a) haven't performed at the level the Pens have needed. Granted, Malkin has been skating on a makeshift line with Chris Kunitz and Eric Fehr to keep the Bonino line in tact, while Sullivan has been attempting to use the Crosby line to mirror the Caps top line in a shutdown role. Neither player has been put in an optimal position to succeed offensively, and perhaps the focus in Game 6 should be on getting Crosby and Malkin favorable matchups instead of asking them to do the brunt of the work.
Because right now the team is having difficulty generating the type of chances they're going to need to beat Braden Holtby. While Pittsburgh has struggled at times in the possession department at 5-on-5, seeing only 48.0% of the total shot attempts directed towards Washington's goal, they've struggled even further in making those shot attempts count. The Penguins have only 42.0% of the high danger scoring chances in the series, trailing 51-37 in that department, and neither Crosby (38.5 HSC%) nor Malkin (40.0 HSC%) has found much success in the small sample size.
Unlike in years past, the Pens find themselves ahead in the series despite the relative quietness of their two star centers. Matt Murry has been a huge part of the reason why with a 0.926 SV% and 2.33 GAA against Washington, as has the 3rd line in combining for 3 goals and 8 assists in the series. No team is going to be able to keep Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down forever, and whether it's just a matter of time, or if Sullivan should be more proactive in getting them favorable matchups instead of using them to limit the Capitals' top players, a big showing by the two headed monster will go a long way towards Pittsburgh finishing out the series and moving onto the next round.