OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators had a front row seat last year as the Anaheim Ducks celebrated a Stanley Cup victory.
It was not the party they wanted to attend. The Senators have had 10 long months to think about what happened in their disastrous 4-1 final loss to the Ducks last June.
As the playoffs get underway, the team says it learned from the experience. Yes, the Senators shed plenty of demons by getting to the final a year ago, but the way they were manhandled by the rugged Ducks once they got there was a clear message.
"The one thing you can learn from the experience is not to take anything for granted," said Senators winger Chris Neil.
"If you have a good team, you don't want to let things slip away. We got a good group of guys in here and going that distance last year will help us come together at the right time.
"When you come back from losing in the Stanley Cup final, it doesn't sit well. That's part of our success at the start of the year. We didn't want to come back and have a lousy start.
"Now that we're going into the playoffs, you want to get back to playing well. You want to get back and be the one that is celebrating, not them."
The Sens have changed a lot since last year's final. Goaltender Ray Emery lost the No. 1 job to Martin Gerber. The club dealt Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves to Carolina for Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman.
And while John Paddock started the season behind the bench, he was sent packing Feb. 25. Coach and GM Bryan Murray is trying to instill a commitment to defensive hockey again, but mostly he's asking his players to follow the same script.
"We know what a grind four rounds can be," said winger Dany Heatley. "Each series was tough last year and took a lot out of us."
The Senators are prepared for a long, physical playoff run, but they first have to get ready for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
Despite finishing just eight points back of the Penguins in the standings, they're not being given much of a chance in the series, let alone a repeat of last year's success.
Over the past month, the Sens have struggled and enter the playoffs without captain Daniel Alfredsson and centre Mike Fisher -- two key cogs in their machine who are injured. They are also without centre Chris Kelly.
"We're well aware that nobody's picking us to win this series," said forward Jason Spezza said. "I don't see a lot of people that believe in us.
"We've got a bad rap the last month or so here, but we feel differently about our team. We still have the manpower here."
The chance to salvage the season is all the motivation the Senators need.
"It's a clean slate," defenceman Wade Redden said.
"We can talk all we want about the season, but we start fresh."
The Senators knocked off the Penguins in just five games in last year's opening round, but Ottawa concedes that Pittsburgh is a different animal this time around.
In Sidney Crosby's absence due to a ankle sprain, Evgeni Malkin emerged as a star in his own right, and the addition of former Ottawa player Marian Hossa at the trade deadline makes the Penguins much more dangerous.
"They're a year better," Redden said. "They've got some young guys that had their first taste last year.
"Obviously, with the guys they've got, we've got to be good defensively."