CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Believing you can get it done only matters until the puck drops. Then you have to do it. Then you have to prove that you belong and that what got you to the Stanley Cup Final is what will take you to the next level: to the Stanley Cup championship.
Maybe that's why the Pittsburgh Penguins seemed to have a subtle bump in their confidence and a greater appreciation for the depths of their ability on Tuesday.
They proved a lot in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks on Monday. The Penguins won 3-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, playing their game. That matters.
"A lot of it is inside your head," Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta said. "When you know and trust yourself and teammates, and then you do the right thing, you know you're a good team."
Video: Hear what Maatta had to say after today's practice
The Penguins never doubted they are a good team, but belief and confidence in these situations can be buoyed when tangible proof is available. They have it going into Game 2 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). They earned it by playing more dominant minutes than the Sharks, by using their speed to overwhelm San Jose in the same manner they did against the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning to reach the Cup Final.
"It just gives you a belief that you can do it," forward Eric Fehr said. "To win that first game, you can look around and think, 'We can do this, we just have to play our game.'"
It starts on the team level; the Penguins jumped all over the Sharks in the first period. They had a 2-0 lead and a 15-4 advantage in shots on goal. The Sharks had to be shaking their heads; they hadn't seen speed mixed with talent like this in the first three rounds.
That the second period didn't go as planned for the Penguins, or at least as they would have hoped, mattered little in Game 1 because Pittsburgh got back to playing the way it wanted to play, to controlling the pace and dominating San Jose in the third period.
The Penguins outshot the Sharks 18-9 in the third. Nick Bonino's goal with 2:33 remaining was the difference.
"We definitely did what we wanted to," captain Sidney Crosby said. "We're playing a team we haven't played in a long time and we're not sure how the game is going to look necessarily because of that, but we didn't wait to see what's going to happen. We tried to dictate things. That's the way we need to play."
Video: #MyPlayoffsMoment: Pens fans ecstatic for Game 1 win
Crosby was a big part of it. He certainly doesn't need any more proof to know that he is hard to defend, sometimes impossible to stop, but he got it anyway on Monday. He was the best player on the ice in the biggest game of the season to date. You wonder what kind of carry-over effect that will have on Crosby and on the Sharks.
"You get this opportunity and you just want to leave it out there," Crosby said. "You know there's only a couple weeks left in the season. That's the bottom line. You understand the situation. There's nothing to save it for."
Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray should feel pretty good about himself, too.
Murray never doubted his ability or that he belongs here, but to get a win with 24 saves, gaining firsthand experience of what this level is all about, should only benefit the 22-year-old as the series goes on.
"Once the puck drops it's just another hockey game," Murray said.
Rookie forwards Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust realized the same thing. They discovered that what they have been doing well for three rounds, or better yet, three months, still works in the Cup Final.
Like Murray, Sheary and Rust didn't doubt it, but having proof matters. They scored in the Stanley Cup Final.
"You don't necessarily prepare for the Stanley Cup Final," Crosby said. "You can go through certain things that help you, but until you're there I don't think anybody knows how you're going to react, including yourself. Those guys have handled everything in stride and continue to do that here."
This proof thing works the other way too. The Penguins also saw in Game 1 what happens when they get careless with the puck and when they get undisciplined.
San Jose adjusted after the first period, and turnovers and a power-play opportunity that ended with Tomas Hertl putting the puck past Murray at 3:02 got them on the board. Patrick Marleau also scored at 16:12 to send the game into the second intermission tied 2-2.
"I think once that second period hit, we kind of realized that they're a good team too and they can score too," Sheary said. "In the third, we just got back to playing hard and playing our game."
Their game works, as they found again Monday. Having proof always helps.
"It does," Maatta said. "It gives us trust in our system, in our game. When we play the game the right way, [it shows us] how good we are. And being up 1-0, it definitely gives you that confidence boost."