PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand, another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted, not their individual greatness or postseason success, and not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness needed to stay on top.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 double-overtime victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that, and whoever has come (into) the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

They’ll have to do it one more time in the finals against Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in the salary-cap era to win back-to-back titles.

Credit Coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner.

Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury’s hot play through the first two rounds finally cooled.

Credit maturity from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

“I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.