NASHVILLE -- Through four games of the Stanley Cup Final, it would be easy to assume the Nashville Predators are in a bit of trouble, because in order for them to win the best-of-7 series, they need to win at least one game on the road, and the Pittsburgh Penguins don't.
With each team holding serve on home ice, and the series tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports), the common perception might be the Predators will need to find a formula that will allow them to win at Pittsburgh.
Except the Predators already have identified that formula, and by and large it is the same one they used in losing Games 1 and 2.
"Everything except for the result," Predators forward Austin Watson said following a full practice Tuesday. "We liked a lot of our game, but obviously it wasn't good enough to get one win or two wins in their building. For us, we need to clean up some areas, we gave up some chances that we'd like to have back in the first couple of games. If we can limit those Grade A chances and play tight defensively, we'll give ourselves a good chance to win."
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The Predators did many things well in Pittsburgh, outshooting and out-chancing the Penguins in each game. They played so well, coach Peter Laviolette appeared to suggest Tuesday he preferred Nashville's defensive effort in Games 1 and 2, when it surrendered nine goals, to Game 4 on Monday, a 4-1 win.
"I think [Monday] night was different," Laviolette said. "There were some opportunities where they got numbers behind us. I didn't see that so much in Games 1 and 2. We were helpful enough to put two [goals] in ourselves. We knocked two in. Had a 5-on-3 goal. They scored a couple of goals off the rush, but we had we had numbers behind that rush. It wasn't like they got behind us.
"So I think the only game really where they did get behind us was [Monday] night. From that, when they did get behind us, not only was there a goal by [center Sidney] Crosby, but there was a chance, then a second chance, a third chance, sometimes a fourth chance. When they got behind us, they were able to do some damage off of that. We need to play a little bit tighter than we did [Monday] night in those situations."
The Penguins had 24 shots on Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne in Game 4, but the majority were of a remarkably high quality. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Penguins had 13 high-danger scoring chances during 5-on-5 play to 10 for the Predators, and the bulk of their shot attempts came from what the Predators call zone-1, the area immediately surrounding their net.
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"It was the first game in the series that we out-chanced them," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Wednesday. "We had some high-quality chances."
In Games 1 and 2, the high-danger chances at 5-on-5 were 14-7 in favor of the Predators, so if they are able to double the Penguins in terms of premium scoring opportunities again in Game 5, they like their chances.
Those chances would be even better if forward Colin Wilson were to return from an undisclosed injury that has kept him out of the series. He skated on the fourth line at practice with center Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk and PA Parenteau rotating on the opposite wing.
That fourth line is another big factor that has changed for Nashville since those two losses in Pittsburgh, because Parenteau and Zolnierczyk replaced forwards Cody McLeod and Vernon Fiddler in Game 3 to give the Predators more speed in the lineup. Adding Wilson would only make that line better.
The Predators recognize what needs to change from their two losses in Games 1 and 2. But more importantly, they realize what doesn't.
"I think we played well," forward James Neal said. "Some unlucky bounces, a couple of plays we'd like to have back, but I thought overall we pushed the pace and played a solid 50 minutes in their building in both games.
"Just clean up those little areas. I think we did that in our rink here, and we'll go in there with that same mindset."