PITTSBURGH — The Stanley Cup Final has been whittled down to a three-game series.
The Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins are deadlocked through four games as they prepare for a crucial Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, WBIR).
There have been 24 previous best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final series tied after four games. The winner of Game 5 has won the championship 17 times.
"We've got a lot of confidence in our group, but we also have a lot of respect for our opponent," Predators captain Mike Fisher said. "I think that's brought out the best in us. We know it's going to have to. Two out of three now. It's pedal down. We're ready."
Here is how the Predators can capture their first Stanley Cup:
The home team has won each game of this series, so the Predators must disrupt that pattern. The Penguins are 9-3 at PPG Paints Arena this postseason, currently riding a five-game winning streak there.
The Predators have five road wins during the playoffs. If they are able to add another Thursday, they will have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena, where they've won 13 of their past 14 playoff games.
Nashville lost Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh by a combined 9-4 score, though that wasn't reflective of the Predators' overall performance. The Predators claimed a significant advantage in shot attempts (91-60) and scoring chances (42-24) in those games but were undone by the Penguins' opportunism.
A repeat of those earlier efforts should produce favorable results.
"We know we can play better in this building," Fisher said. "We know we're going to have to. ... We liked our game for some of it, and then other parts of it, they took over and they capitalized. We did a better job of managing the game that way in Games 3 and 4."
Held without a shot on goal in Game 3 for the fourth time this postseason, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby rebounded with his best game of the series on Monday. He had played 12 consecutive Stanley Cup Final games without a goal before snapping that drought on a nifty breakaway in the first period.
Crosby has the unworldly skill to carry his team to a second consecutive championship, though he will need more help than he received in Pittsburgh's Game 4 loss. The 29-year-old has four points in as many games, but the Penguins have controlled less than 45 percent of the total even-strength shot attempts when he is on the ice.
The Predators’ forward line centered by Fisher has been primarily responsible for tracking Crosby, as has the defense pair of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis.
"He doesn't need a lot of chances," Josi said. "It's not just me and (Ellis) defending him. It's five guys. I think our forwards have done a great job of helping us out."
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and forward Phil Kessel also can't be ignored. It will be up to Predators defensemen P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm to keep them quiet.
Each starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup Final has experienced a two-game hiccup. Pekka Rinne endured a nightmarish first trip to Pittsburgh, letting in eight goals on 36 shots. He regrouped with a .962 save percentage in the Predators' two home victories.
Matt Murray surrendered eight goals himself in Games 3 and 4, with the Predators frequently targeting his glove hand. Murray's consecutive losses at Bridgestone Arena were the first of his 30-game NHL playoff career.
Outside of his rough outings to start the Final, Rinne has been dazzling this postseason. Murray is attempting to accomplish the unprecedented feat of winning the Stanley Cup twice as a rookie.
Who blinks first?
"You don't want to look back yet, but I've been playing for a long time and never had this opportunity," Rinne said. "It means everything to me right now."
Reach Adam Vingan at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AdamVingan.
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