The Penguins learned a lot about playoff hockey in their first-round loss to Ottawa a year ago.
About commitment and sacrifice. About focus and intensity.
But this, well, it's something new to a lot of them, at least at this level.
The many lessons they absorbed last spring, you see, did not include firsthand knowledge of what it's like to own a lead in a series, as they do after defeating the Senators, 4-0, at Mellon Arena last night in Game 1 of their rematch.
Game 2 will be at 7:08 p.m. tomorrow at Mellon Arena.
Sidney Crosby hasn't been in this position since junior hockey. Brooks Orpik figures this is the first time for him since he played in Wilkes-Barre five years ago. Ryan Malone thinks that actually trying to remember leading a series is setting the bar way too high.
"I don't even know if we outshot anybody in a while," he said.
Well, the Penguins did that last night, too, but winning the game was far more significant. The Senators' 6-3 victory in Game 1 last April set a tone for the series; the Penguins hope winning last night does the same.
"They embarrassed us last year," left winger Gary Roberts said. "I think we learned our lesson."
His teammates could have done that simply by studying Roberts. Playing in just his second game after missing more than three months with a broken leg and high ankle sprain, he logged 12 minutes, 45 seconds of ice time.
Enough to score two goals, record three hits and remind everyone of how he has devoted much of his adult life to making the Senators miserable.
"It felt real good to chip in," Roberts said.
Lots of guys did, some in ways outside their usual job description.
Defenseman Ryan Whitney, for example, pummeled Senators defenseman Wade Redden after Redden had a late-game run-in with Crosby.
"I saw Sid get punched in the head, and, obviously, I was going to respond," Whitney said.
As did most of his teammates, including goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 26 saves to earn his first career playoff shutout. He made several quality stops, none better than when he denied Cory Stillman from the slot seconds after the Penguins killed the first of Ottawa's two five-on-three power plays.
"He was amazing," Talbot said. "That's great for him. And great for us."
The Senators -- already missing forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly -- lost defenseman Anton Volchenkov midway through the second period when he was cut on the forehead after an Evgeni Malkin shot drove his helmet into his forehead.
Volchenkov left the game and needed stitches to close the gash on his brow, but coach Bryan Murray suggested his prognosis was encouraging.
"Hopefully, he'll be OK [today]," Murray said.
Ottawa failed to score on seven power plays, including those two extended five-on-three advantages.
"Those were huge," Malone said.
Roberts got the Penguins the only goal they would need 68 seconds after the opening faceoff. Linemate Georges Laraque threw the puck in front of the net, where Roberts pounced on it before throwing a backhander past goalie Martin Gerber.
"That put us in a catch-up mode," Murray said.
Petr Sykora capped a two-on-one break against defenseman Chris Phillips by taking a cross-ice feed from Malkin and beating Gerber from inside the right circle to make it 2-0 at 12:28.
The Senators hung tough -- "I don't think it was a 4-0 game," Murray said -- until Malkin put the game out of reach with his first career playoff goal at 13:58 of the third period. He used his right skate to steer a Whitney pass onto his stick before flipping the puck past Gerber.
Roberts added the bookend to his game-opening goal by scoring from the left side of the crease on a power play at 18:25 to close out the scoring.
"Everyone was really happy to see him get two goals," Orpik said.
Everyone who wasn't wearing a Senators sweater, anyway. And while the victory gave the Penguins an early upper hand on the series, it is not to be confused with a chokehold.
"It's far from over," Orpik said.
"They have a lot of character. We have a lot of respect for that whole team. It's going to be a long series."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published April 10, 2008 4:00 AM