PITTSBURGH (AP) -With so many postseason failures behind them, so many disappointing swings in momentum and breakdowns in confidence, the Ottawa Senators understand they should never feel comfortable with any Stanley Cup playoffs series lead.
The bad memories are too recent and their flops too frequent for them to disregard their past - even as they take a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of their first-round series against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
The Senators understand those past defeats will never go away. What Ottawa coach Bryan Murray seems determined to instill in them is that nothing that occurred during nine consecutive failed Stanley Cup runs from 1998-2006 has anything to do with this team.
"I know there's a lot of comments about the history, but this is a very different hockey team than I had last year. Very different," Murray said Monday. "We play different, we handle things better. ... The history lesson has been learned, I hope and think, and we're just going to be calm and play."
During their 4-2 victory Sunday night, the Senators shook off a Pittsburgh goal in the opening minute and whatever jump the Penguins might have gained from their come-from-behind 4-3 decision in Ottawa on Saturday to dominate the final two periods.
"It's a different year, a new start - no matter how good you've been in the past or how bad you've been, it doesn't really matter," said Daniel Alfredsson, who scored two goals Sunday. "You've got to prove yourself again."
Or in the Penguins' case, prove themselves for the first time. Only three Penguins players have more than a smattering of playoff experience, and coach Michel Therrien is wondering aloud if his team understands what it takes to win in the postseason.
While key Senators such as Alfredsson and Jason Spezza can be seen delivering hits or making plays at either end of the ice, some Penguins have not elevated their games to a similar two-way level.
"I think we're playing at a different level than during the year - I hope we are, I think we are," Murray said.
Penguins star Sidney Crosby has noticed.
"You see that in the playoffs - the skilled players have to be a little more grittier and find ways to create chances, and a lot of times that comes from taking a hit or giving a hit," Crosby said.
Ottawa was second in the league with 286 goals during the regular season, yet owns the series lead mostly because it has kept Pittsburgh's stars from taking over games. Crosby has three goals, but two came in games already decided. Evgeni Malkin, Mark Recchi and Colby Armstrong, among others, have yet to score.
"We've got some guys who so far have been disappointments," Therrien said.
Among them is Malkin, the front-runner for the rookie of the year award. He has four assists in three games but has taken only four shots, all in Game 3.
While Malkin looked better skating Sunday than in the previous two games, he has seemed surprised by how much better the defensive play becomes during the postseason. There also might be a fatigue factor considering he has played about 30 more games than he would have for his former Russian pro team.
"He's got to be better," Therrien said.
Playing better in the second period would help. The Penguins have been outscored 6-1 in a period that proved pivotal in Games 1 and 3. Ottawa scored three times in the second period Sunday.
"Our team played from behind quite a bit at the end of the year," Gary Roberts said. "Maybe we didn't know what to do with a lead. We definitely let ourselves down in the second period and they took it to us."
As a result, the message sent to the Penguins players Monday was evident: Play 60 minutes, not 20 or 40. Stop making bad mistakes, such as Malkin's giveaway that led to a goal Sunday. Don't take useless penalties. Get more shots - the Senators have a 99-66 edge so far.
"There's been a lack of discipline and a loss of focus at times," Roberts said.
A lack of experience, too, though, as Crosby said, nothing until now will have mattered if the Penguins can win Game 4 and even the series. Then, the series will be exactly as it was going into Game 1: all even, with the Penguins needing to win at least once in Ottawa to move on to the second round.
"We've got to be sure we get one (victory) here," Crosby said.