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Preds Bring Momentum, Confidence into Game Five

Preds Hold Corsi, Scoring Chances Advantage; Know They Have to Win on the Road

by John Glennon @glennonsports / glennonsports@gmail.com

With the Predators one day away from the most significant game in franchise history - Game Five of the Stanley Cup Final - big-picture logic tells us the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins are still the favorite.

The Penguins, after all, are the defending Stanley Cup champs, a team that's captured two of the last eight NHL crowns.

The Penguins feature Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who've combined for three of the NHL's MVP awards over the past decade.

The Penguins will be playing at home, where they're 9-3 in the playoffs this year and 18-7 over the past two postseasons.

But nearly two months into the 2017 playoffs, it's become impossible to doubt the Predators as they seek to wrestle home-ice advantage back from the Penguins - and move within a game of capturing the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

We'll go first with the numbers arguments:

The Predators have, quite simply, controlled the majority of these first four games, outshooting the Penguins 123-91 and - per the website naturalstattrick.com - producing 34 high-danger scoring chances, compared to 26 for the Penguins.

Puck possession? The Predators are dominant in that department as well. They've generated more than 55 percent of the series shot attempts - not just shots on goal - through the first four games, compared to just over 44 percent for the Pens.

Special teams? The Predators have four power-play goals through four games and have killed off 15-of-16 Pittsburgh man-advantages.

Belief that the Predators can capture Thursday night's critical contest, however, has to go beyond numbers at this point.

We've known that since the First Round, when the eight-seeded Predators first let us know something very special might be brewing - stunning top-seeded Chicago in a sweep. The suspicion was confirmed one round later, when a hard-fought win over St. Louis vaulted the Preds into the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history.

That's when things really took an eye-opening turn.

With first-line center Ryan Johansen out for the season (and second-line center Mike Fisher out for two games), the Preds beat the Ducks twice in a row to claim their first Stanley Cup Final berth. In fact, since Johansen (the team's leading points producer when he was hurt) was lost for the remainder of the season, the Predators have gone 4-2 and outscored opposing fowl - Ducks and Penguins - by a combined 22-15.

The loss of Johansen led to the re-distribution of his highly talented former linemates, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. One could make the argument that's actually forged more balanced lines, making it a challenge for opponents to focus on one top trio.

Video: Forsberg, Irwin, Rinne and Sissons talk Game 5

In Monday's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh, for instance, nine Preds forwards produced a point, a total that included at least one forward from all four lines. Rookie Frederick Gaudreau, an undrafted free agent, even scored his team-high third goal of the Cup Final.

"That's what it comes down to - you need that second-, third- and fourth-line scoring if you want to be a successful team," Forsberg said. "I don't know how many players we've used this playoff run, but players just come in and out of the lineup and play unbelievable."

So now comes the next big showdown for the Predators, the next opportunity for this team to make a magical statement. History tells us winners of Game Five in the Final - when the series is tied 2-2 - have gone on to capture the Cup more than 70 percent of the time.

The Predators couldn't break through in Pittsburgh in either of the Cup Final's first two games, losing twice to a more opportunistic and efficient Penguins team. The wins were the fourth and fifth straight in a row at home for the Pens, who made Preds goalie Pekka Rinne look like a mere mortal, scoring eight goals on 36 shots.

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Gaudreau converts on a wraparound

But the Preds still head north to the Steel City full of momentum, in large part because Rinne has regained his luottamus - the Finnish word for confidence, of course - by stopping 50-of-52 shots in back-to-back Nashville victories.

So can Nashville really take the next step by pulling off a pivotal Game Five win in hostile territory?

Whether you're a believer in the math or the mojo, it's become all but impossible to doubt the Predators.

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