The Ottawa Senators have this theory, see.
They have come to believe, through both preaching and practice, that they don't have to have the best team on paper to have the best result on the scoreboard.
"I think we have shown in the past," Ottawa's star defenceman Erik Karlsson said before Tuesday's opening match in this second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, "that even though we are not the best team on the ice all the time, we are still finding ways to win games."
Not this night, not up against a team that, on paper, compares like glossy portrait stock to newsprint.
Not when, even without Sidney Crosby on the score sheet, the Pittsburgh Penguins skated to an easy 4-1 victory over the Senators.
"Sometimes shit happens," said a disappointed Karlsson when it was over.
"We tried and tried….That's the way it is sometime."
"We did some good things," added captain Daniel Alfredsson, "but not good enough."
The Senators went into this game determined to shut down Crosby – "Maybe we have to put a backpack on him or something," Karlsson had joked – and by and large they did. But the Penguins have long since proved that they do not need their superstar and oft-injured captain to succeed.
In the days between series, the Senators, players and coaches, had talked constantly about the need for self-discipline. No penalties unless absolutely necessary.
"Odd man rushes with their skill is not going to work to our favour," Alfredsson had said only that morning.
"So we've got to play a disciplined game.
His team went into this series knowing they have to stay away, as much as possible, from the vaunted power play that helped the Penguins become the league's top-scoring team this short season. Playing one man short against the likes of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, etc., is roughly equal to being two-men short against any other team in the league.
No dumb penalties, they swore – and swore again when Kyle Turris took one almost immediately.
With Turris off for high-sticking barely a minute into the game, Pittsburgh defenceman Paul Martin took a point shot that ticked off Ottawa defenceman Jared Cowen and found its way past a screened Craig Anderson.
Anderson – the single largest reason the Senators made the playoffs and the reason above all others that they got past No. 2 seed Montreal Canadiens – was splendid to start the game, stopping Crosby twice in the opening minute alone.
Thanks to Anderson, Ottawa was still in the game near the five-minute mark of Pittsburgh dominance when Colin Greening, usually a non-scoring threat, slapped several times at a puck Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun had already stopped and, somehow, the puck trickled into the short side of the net to tie the match at 1-1.
The other cardinal rule the Senators hoped to stick to was no bad giveaways. That largely held until young Ottawa defenceman Cowen coughed up a puck to Pittsburgh's James Neal. Cowen then failed to adequately cover the dangerous Malkin while Neal got the puck to Chris Kunitz who sent a sharp pass to Malkin for an easy tip-in.
For Cowen, a tower of strength and dependability in Ottawa's five-game win over Montreal, it was an unfortunate period of hockey.
For Malkin, already on fire with 11 points in Pittsburgh's six-game series win over the New York Islanders, the goal and an assist on Martin's goal took his team-leading total to 13 points in only seven games.
In the second period, roles reversed, with the Senators pressing and the Penguins struggling to keep them at bay. Vokoun was strong in every aspect but his rebounds, pucks bouncing off his pads and chest and landing in the slot area like a roll of bills. Unfortunately, for the Senators, not once could they get to the find in time.
While it could be fairly said the Senators won the second period in play, they lost it in score – once again to a dumb penalty.
With Cory Conacher, the hero of Ottawa's unlikely overtime victory in Game 4 against Montreal, off for holding, the Penguins' power play went to work, the puck moving pinball-like from Letang to Iginla to Kunitz and in before Anderson or any of the Ottawa defence could react.
It was the Penguins' ninth power-play goal of the post-season – the team's 37.5-per-cent success rate leading the league.
"We have to try and stay out of the box a little more," said Conacher.
So much for being disciplined and staying away from Pittsburgh's special teams.
And this, unfortunately for Ottawa, also included the Penguins penalty killers, who not only held the Senators without a power-play goal but scored their own shorthanded goal late in the game when Pascal Dupuis broke up ice and fired a hard, high wrist shot past Anderson's right shoulder, drawing compliments from the team captain. "A good start," Crosby said afterwards. "Our penalty kill did a good job."
The sellout crowd of 18,621 – the 282nd consecutive sellout at Consol Energy Center – roared with approval.
"It wasn't good enough," said Anderson of his team's effort. "We have to be better.
"And I've got to lead by example…at the end of the day, I didn't stop them."
The Senators also lost defenceman Eric Gryba following a solid collision with Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik. Gryba left the game and did not return.
The game marked the fourth time in the past seven years that the two teams have met in the playoffs, with Ottawa winning the first back in 2007, the year the Senators went to the Stanley Cup final, and the Penguins winning the two most recent encounters.
Oddly enough, there is not much rivalry residue from those past series, though, as Crosby said Tuesday, "Every series turns into a rivalry."
This one can try again here Friday, when, as Iginla said afterwards, "It starts all over."