OTTAWA -- A lot of things have happened to the Penguins in the playoffs since the most recent time they clinched a series on home ice.
They've dropped three series to lower-seeded teams. They've earned a couple of conference championships. And, oh yeah, they've won a Stanley Cup.
Their 7-3 victory Wednesday night against Ottawa at Scotiabank Place in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series, however, has given them a chance to end an unlikely streak that has spanned five springs.
They own a 3-1 lead in the series and can secure a spot in the Eastern Conference final with a victory in Game 5 at 7:38 p.m. Friday at Consol Energy Center.
If they win, it would be the first time they've wrapped up a series at home since the Eastern Conference final against Philadelphia in 2008.
And if they play like they did most of Game 4, it's hard to imagine they won't win. After spotting Ottawa an early 1-0 lead with a short-handed goal, they steamrolled the Senators most of the game, at one point running off six unanswered goals.
Their power play atoned for its early flop, scoring on two of five tries. Their penalty-killers gave up a goal, but also scored one. They outshot the Senators, 42-33, and outplayed them by a significantly wider margin.
And perhaps most important for the Penguins, Jarome Iginla and James Neal, who had combined for three goals in these playoffs before Game 4, scored two each. If they start finding the net regularly, the Penguins could make life miserable for any goaltender obliged to face them.
"It's always great to see your teammates have success," center Sidney Crosby said. "Especially those guys, who take a lot of pride in scoring goals. It was nice to see it go in for them."
Neal and Iginla weren't the only guys who had big nights. Kris Letang tied a franchise record with four assists. Pascal Dupuis tied a franchise record set by Mario Lemieux with his second short-handed goal of the spring. Crosby had a goal and an assist.
Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators, Consol Energy Center.
7:38 p.m. Friday.
NBC Sports Network.
- At stake:
The Penguins get their first chance to close out the Senators and advance to the Eastern Conference final.
For much of the game, the Penguins were as dominant as they have been at any point in these playoffs.
"We kind of allowed them to walk all over us, which is unacceptable," Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot said. "They're the best team in the East. It showed tonight."
The Penguins made two lineup changes for Game 4, adding forwards Beau Bennett and Jussi Jokinen and scratching Tanner Glass and Brenden Morrow, who is believed to have an arm or shoulder injury. Bennett had not played in the previous six games, Jokinen in the previous five.
The Penguins, who had been less than a half-minute away from taking a 3-0 lead in the series when Daniel Alfredsson got a short-handed goal Sunday to force overtime, were outscored on their first chance with the man-advantage in Game 4 as well. This time, Milan Michalek grabbed a loose puck and rushed it up ice, surging between point men Letang and Evgeni Malkin before beating goalie Tomas Vokoun high on the glove side from the slot at 2:29.
That gave Ottawa its first lead in regulation of the series, but it didn't last long.
The Penguins pulled even when Neal scored his first goal in the past six games at 14:56, grabbing the puck in the right circle and whipping it past Senators goalie Craig Anderson for his second of the playoffs.
Ottawa countered just over a minute later, as Kyle Turris backhanded a shot past Vokoun from in front of the crease at 16:15, but the Penguins seized control of the game -- and, quite possibly, the series -- by scoring twice in 40 seconds early in the second.
Chris Kunitz pulled them even at 1:08, pulling in a long lead pass from Dupuis and beating Anderson on a breakaway for his fourth of the playoffs. The Scotiabank Place crowd was still trying to digest that goal when Iginla put the Penguins in front, 3-2, by punching in a Letang rebound at 1:48.
Neal made it 4-2 with a power-play goal at 1:59 of the third -- "Not just a big goal for our power play," coach Dan Bylsma said. "A big goal for James, as well" -- and the Penguins' offensive avalanche began to gain momentum.
Dupuis scored his short-handed goal at 8:08 after a sensational effort by Matt Cooke to set him up, and Crosby stuck a backhander behind Anderson 30 seconds later.
Ottawa coach Paul MacLean replaced Anderson with Robin Lehner at that point, and Iginla welcomed him with another power-play goal at 9:53. Alfredsson got a man-advantage goal at 14:44, but that affected nothing except Vokoun's personal stats.
"We stuck with things," Crosby said. "It would have been easy to get frustrated after the first. We just trusted the way we play and ended up getting some goals."
And with a chance, for the first time in half a decade, to win a series in front of their home crowd.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 23, 2013 2:30 AM