PITTSBURGH -- The finish, the Pittsburgh Penguins are convinced, is linked to the start.
Pittsburgh holds a 3-1 lead in an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series and hopes to polish off the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
That will be a lot easier, the Penguins figure, if they have a better first period than they have had in each of the first four games.
"Our start has to be better (Thursday) with our own fans," Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist said after practice on Wednesday.
Columbus has enjoyed the better start in every game, for the first part of or all of the first period.
In Game 1, the Blue Jackets built a 16-3 shot advantage in the first, which ended scoreless.
In Game 2, the Blue Jackets led in shots 12-7 after one period, although center Sidney Crosby was able to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
In Game 3, Columbus stormed to a 3-1 lead after one period.
In each of those games, Pittsburgh overcame its slow start to win for a 3-0 series lead.
It didn't work out quite as well Tuesday in Game 4, when the Blue Jackets took a 2-0 lead in the first and hung on for a 5-4 win at Nationwide Arena to stave off elimination.
"We'd like to get a better start," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think I've said that a couple of times, but certainly we've got to act on it. It's about being ready from the drop of the puck. It's a mindset. It's not a wait-and-see approach.
"We've got to be ready to dictate the terms from the very first puck drop. Certainly the one common theme through the series to this point is we know we're capable of much better starts."
Pittsburgh practiced Wednesday without winger Phil Kessel and defenseman Trevor Daley.
"We just decided to keep them off the ice," Sullivan said. "Everybody at this time of year is dealing with bumps and bruises."
Columbus, if it wants to get to Game 6 Sunday at home, will most likely have to have a strong start, middle and ending.
The Blue Jackets figure their Game 4 win was a step toward that and nothing more.
"We said we wanted to go back to Pittsburgh," center William Karlsson said.
"It's something to build off of," winger Boone Jenner said. "We're going to have to be better each game."
The one-game-at-a-time theme might be a bit trite, but it's something the Blue Jackets have embraced repeatedly.
"We'll try to figure out how to go about our business and manage the series," coach John Tortorella said. "Sure, we're still in a pretty big hole, but we've just got to take it one game at a time and try to manage the series that way."
Pittsburgh has a lot more leeway, needing only to win one of potentially three more games to clinch the series and face the winner of the Washington-Toronto series.
However, the Penguins are the team coming off of a loss.
"It wasn't our best game," Crosby said. "The score was a direct result of how we played. We gave up a number of goals, and we weren't good enough, so we didn't deserve that one.
"You've got to make sure that you learn quick and you forget quick and you move on."