TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Finesse and offensive skill will only carry you so far in the NHL playoffs. If the Ottawa Senators are going to shake their reputation as playoff failures, they know they have to be aggressive on defense, too.
Two nights after a third-period collapse at home revived talk about past postseason disappointment, the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference regained control of its first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning with an impressive 8-4 victory on Tuesday night.
The Senators showed why they were the league's highest-scoring team this season, but they also were more physical in taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven matchup. Game 4 is Thursday night in Tampa.
"We said to ourselves we have to play hard and fight for every inch on the ice," Ottawa defenseman Zdeno Chara said.
Martin Havlat scored his third and fourth goals of the playoffs, and defenseman Wade Redden had a goal and two assists after missing Game 2 to fly to Saskatchewan to be with family following the death of his mother.
Antoine Vermette also scored twice for the Senators, who got another solid performance from goaltender Ray Emery. The rookie stopped 35 shots and again showed why Ottawa is confident it can go deep into the playoffs, even without injured goalie Dominik Hasek.
"It's a different game being up three goals in the first period. I thought we were flying out there," Emery said.
"That magic that a lot of these guys have, you could see it in the first and even in the third. When we got chances, we buried them."
The Senators have been one of the top two seeds in the East four times since 1999, but have yet to advance to the Stanley Cup finals. They entered this series as heavy favorites after sweeping four regular-season meetings and taking 17 of 20 games from the Lightning over the past five years.
"We played a little bit nervous and made some mistakes that burned us," Tampa Bay's Brad Richards said.
"But it's over with. We've had stinkers before and we'll have them again. It's how you rebound."
Paul Ranger scored twice and Martin St. Louis once for the Lightning, who trimmed a four-goal deficit to 5-2 on Ranger's unassisted goal just 20 seconds into third period. But any realistic chance to make it interesting faded when Tampa Bay's Chris Dingman gave the Senators a 7-minute power play by drawing penalties for instigating and fighting.
Dany Heatley and Chara scored during the stretch for Ottawa to make it 7-2. Tampa Bay came back with power-play goals by Ranger and Pavel Kubina, but by that time the game was well out of reach.
Heatley and Chara didn't make it to the end as they were part of a brawl with 2:17 left.
Heatley squared off in a fight with Nolan Pratt, and Chara locked up with Vincent Lecavalier. Ottawa's 6-foot-9 defenseman cocked his right arm and held it menacingly over Lecavalier, who was down on the ice, but restrained from throwing the big punch.
The melee, sparked by Vaclav Varada's boarding penalty against Tampa Bay's Ruslan Fedotenko, capped a physical game that featured 139 penalty minutes - 79 for Tampa Bay - five fighting majors, and seven misconducts.
"We were more passive in the first two games. We kind of laid back and allowed a lot of time and space for the skill players on their team to attack us," Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. "I thought tonight we were quicker and tried to challenge more."
Despite winning Game 2 to even the series and end a nine-game losing streak against the Senators, Lightning coach John Tortorella insisted earlier Tuesday that the pressure to win the series remains on Ottawa because of expectations created by a stellar regular season.
The Senators answered questions about how they would respond by scoring three times in their first 11 shots, with Havlat finding the net for the third straight game and Redden and Patrick Eaves adding their first goals of the playoffs.
The Lightning were fortunate to only trail 3-1 after one period.
Tampa Bay has been putrid on the power play in the first three games of the series, going 4-for-23 with two of the goals coming in 5-on-3 situations, including St. Louis' shot that got through Emery late in the first period.
The Lightning yanked goalie John Grahame after Havlat's second goal made it 5-1 midway through the second period. Backup Sean Burke yielded goals to Heatley, Chara and Vermette in the third.
"They came out strong. They didn't seem to sit back and wait and see what was going to happen," Burke said. "When you play from behind against that team, it's going to be hard."
Notes: Ottawa C Jason Spezza had four assists. ... The Lightning were 3-for-11 on the power-play. Ottawa was 3-for-4. ... Redden's three points were a playoff career high. ... Tampa Bay LW Vinny Prospal, slowed by an upper body injury, was in the lineup. ... Ottawa C Chris Kelly, who left during the third period of Game 2 with an upper body injury, was injured again Tuesday. He left with a lower body injury in the second period and didn't return.
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