In playoff atmospheres where momentum can change from shift to shift and it's anyone's guess how the result of one game will affect the next, there seems to be one constant between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Rangers will build an early lead, leaving it up to the Penguins to respond.
Dreadful starts have doomed Pittsburgh for the past two postseasons against New York, and another in Wednesday night's Game 4 could mean the difference between heading back to Madison Square Garden tied or being on the brink of elimination.
The Rangers didn't need more than 10 minutes to score the first goal in the final three games of their comeback from a 3-1 deficit in last season's second-round series against the Penguins, and nothing has changed a round earlier this spring. New York has taken a first-period cushion in all three games, grabbing the lead for good with both Derick Brassard's goal 28 seconds into the opener and Carl Hagelin's tally 8:43 into Game 3 in 2-1 victories.
"We played our 'A' game (Monday)," Brassard said. "That's something that we talked about before the game and that's something we've been doing all season long."
Brassard and the Rangers have been at their best early against Pittsburgh, outscoring the Penguins 9-1 in the opening 20 minutes of their playoff contests dating to last season's Game 5. They've allowed only 13 shots in those 60 minutes so far in this series, including none for the first 15 minutes Monday.
"I thought we overpassed the puck early in the game, no question," Penguins coach Mike Johnston told the NHL's official website. "We came in on the attack, we had lanes, and we took the pass back instead of the play ahead. That has to be a shot choice instant. You can't look, you can't wait, it's gotta be right to the net."
New York, which has blocked 39 shots in its two wins compared to seven in its Game 2 loss, has won 11 of 12 on the road dating to early March while allowing a total of 14 goals in those victories. The Rangers netted the opening goal in eight of them, and they have won 43 of the 53 games they've struck first including the regular season.
"I think our style permits us to play well on the road at times with the way we control the puck," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has 10 points in his last 11 games overall and 16 in his last 14 postseason contests.
"(We) make sure that we don't give teams good opportunities and good looks and keep the crowd out of it."
The Penguins certainly can't afford to be trailing again heading into another third period. They were the NHL's only team without a victory when losing after 40 minutes in the regular season (0-18-5) and have added two more failed comebacks in this series - even after keeping the Rangers on their heels for much of the third Monday.
"Our desperation level was much higher in the third," Sidney Crosby said. "You saw the difference in our game and our play ... but you have to find that level of desperation for the entire game."
While Crosby has had a hand in three of the Penguins' five goals in the past two games, Evgeni Malkin - who said prior to Game 3 that he's at 85-90 percent physically - continues to struggle. He didn't record a shot Monday and has gone eight straight games without a point and 13 in a row without a goal.
Henrik Lundqvist has a .953 save percentage in his last seven games in Pittsburgh dating to Game 1 of last season's series.