OTTAWA -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have responded to every challenge they've faced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs over the past two seasons.
They will have do to it again after a 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final at Canadian Tire Centre on Wednesday. If they don't, they will fall short in their bid to become the first Stanley Cup champions to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
Trailing 2-1 in the best-of-7 series heading into Game 4 here Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), the Penguins know they have a lot of room for improvement after falling behind 4-0 in the opening 12:52 of Game 3.
[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage]
"I don't think it has anything to do with strategy or X's and O's," coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think it's a readiness. … It's a hunger, and we've got to play with more conviction. Our team is usually a team that plays that way. So to come out in the first period and not bring the necessary conviction that we need to be effective is disappointing."
Through the first three games of the series, the Penguins have scored three goals -- one in each game. They finally broke through and got a power-play goal from Sidney Crosby 6:07 into the third period Wednesday after failing to convert on their first eight power plays of the series.
But that goal was mostly window dressing on a night when they again failed to create enough quality scoring chances against the Senators' suffocating 1-3-1 defensive system.
Video: PIT@OTT, Gm3: Crosby deflects puck five-hole for PPG
"We should be a little bit embarrassed the way we came out and the way we started this game," left wing Chris Kunitz said. "We need to come [with] more jump and more urgency every single time we step on the ice. Nothing is going to be handed to you, nothing is going to be given to you at this level."
Although the Penguins were held to one goal in their 1-0 win in Game 2 on Monday, they thought they were on the right track because of the number of scoring chances they generated and how they forced the Senators to play for long stretches in their own end. They felt they took a step back Wednesday.
"We didn't generate enough," said Crosby, whose goal was his first point of the series. "We had a few decent chances, but we didn't execute great. But it's playoff time. You're not going to get a ton of chances anyway, and when you do, you have to make sure that you bury them. That's nothing new. That's been the case in every series we've played. We've got to do a better job of that."
The Penguins played with an injury-depleted lineup that was missing defensemen Kris Letang (season-ending neck surgery) and Justin Schultz (upper body), and forwards Bryan Rust (upper body) and Patric Hornqvist (upper body). Previously, they'd been able to win in spite of their injuries, but they appeared to be too much to overcome Wednesday, particularly on defense.
With Trevor Daley returning from a lower-body injury that sidelined him for four games, the Penguins decided to dress seven defensemen with Mark Streit making his Penguins playoff debut to help run the power play in Schultz's in absence. But Pittsburgh appeared disorganized in their end at times, and Ottawa forced numerous turnovers that led to scoring chances.
The Penguins had similar problems at times in the first two rounds against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals. They survived them mostly because of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Video: Jaffe and Friedman wrap up game 3 in the ECF
Fleury wasn't able bail them out Wednesday. The Senators grabbed the lead on Mike Hoffman's goal 48 seconds into the game, and things snowballed from there before Fleury was pulled after allowing four goals on nine shots.
"I just think we've got to be more ready to play from the drop of the puck," Sullivan said. "When you give up a goal that early in the game against a team that's playing at home, it gives their team a lot of energy. So I think we've got to be ready right from the drop of the puck, and we simply have to be better. We've got to be playing on our toes."
While Sullivan contemplates whether to go back to Fleury in net for Game 4 or to turn to Matt Murray, who earned 15 of the 16 wins in Pittsburgh's Cup run last season, the Penguins know they have to be better in a lot of areas or the Senators will make them pay again.
"You've got to learn from it either way, however it shakes out," Crosby said. "Whether you lose in double overtime or have the kind of game we had, you've got to learn from it. But we've got to find a lot better game."
Having seen the Penguins do it before, Sullivan sounded confident they can do it again.
"When you're playing a seven-game series, you have to have the ability to respond," Sullivan said. "There's no doubt in my mind this group of players will. We didn't get the result that we wanted tonight. We certainly would have liked to have had a better first period than we did. We did some good things out there. We have to build on those. We've got to learn from this experience and move by it and get ready for the next game."