Stanley Cup Final: The Predators Have Been the Better Team, But Will It Matter?

Statistically, the Preds have been the better team through the first four games of the series. Are they the favorite going forward, or does that title sit with the defending champs?

For every team, the goal in October was the same -- to win the Stanley Cup.

As we approach the final three games of this centennial season, that goal has become much more real for the Nashville Predators. After tying the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece on Monday night at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville is within two victories of their ultimate goal.

Going up against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, this series was going to be a tough one for the 8 seed out of the Western Conference. To take home the hardware, they would need to clear a roadblock that many teams have had trouble with -- winning at least one game in Pittsburgh.

In a series that simply had to be tied (at worst) going into Game 5 for Nashville to have a chance, we have seen both sides dominate play at one time or another. But for a lot of this series, the Preds have looked like the better team, and they were rewarded for it with victories in Games 3 and 4.

This series gets underway again Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena, and if we see what we have seen for the majority of the series thus far, the Preds have a real chance of pulling this off. Originally, we at numberFire gave the Pens a 61.59% chance to win the series. But despite no major injuries and the fact that it's now a best-of-three affair, with two games in Pittsburgh, Nashville chances have risen a bit, per our models.

Series Outcomes Probability
Nashville Predators win in 6 20.97%
Nashville Predators win in 7 20.24%
Nashville Predators win series 41.21%
Pittsburgh Penguins win in 6 30.16%
Pittsburgh Penguins win in 7 28.63%
Pittsburgh Penguins win series 58.79%

Now, a 3% increase obviously isn't a groundbreaking amount, but it's the play we have seen so far in this series that puts us where we are.

Let's take a look at some of the defining stats from the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final and see why Nashville more than deserves the increase in odds. Also, give that our metrics factor in the season as a whole, they might be underselling the Preds a bit, seeing as how they've clearly been a different team this postseason than they were for the majority of the regular season.

A Cohesive Unit

Nashville has been nothing short of what it has had to be through this series, and aside from Game 2, they have dominated play. They've gotten heavy hitting, secondary scoring from players like Frederick Gaudreau (who became the second player in NHL history to score his first three NHL goals in the Stanley Cup Final), and better-than-average goaltending from Pekka Rinne.

Natural Stat Trick compares the team possession stats through the four games played in this series, and what you'll see is exactly what we've gotten. Nashville's recent play has jumped them over Pittsburgh in almost every category.

Metric Nashville Predators Pittsburgh Penguins
Corsi For 227 177
Corsi Against 177 227
Corsi For Percentage 56.19% 43.81%
Fenwick For 160 128
Fenwick Against 128 160
Fenwick For Percentage 55.56% 44.44%
Shots For 123 91
Shots Against 91 123
Shots For Percentage 57.48% 42.52%
Goals For 13 11
Goals Against 11 13
Goals For Percentage 54.17% 45.83%
Scoring Chances For 101 76
Scoring Chances Against 76 101
Scoring Chances For Percentage 54.17% 42.94%
PDO (Measure of Luck) 98.5 101.5

There's a lot to digest here, but one of the stats which really jumps out at you is the amount of scoring chances created. Nashville has created 25 more chances through the four games. If anything, it's the Penguins who are lucky to be tied 2-2, with Game 1 being a contest that favored the Preds in just about every stat but the final score.

Shot Tides

It's important to mention shot tides, which show the degree of pressure a team applies in situations throughout games.

Nashville has been relentless. These graphs -- which are created by HockeyViz -- show exactly that as Nashville is dominating, even in losses. They are in order of the games, starting with Game 1.

Murray Is Human

It seems that Nashville has gotten to Matt Murray -- something no one has been able to do so far in Murray's (brief but) illustrious playoff career. The Preds have posted nine goals in the past two games after scoring four in the first two games.

If this tide continues, we could see an appearance from Marc-Andre Fleury in between the pipes for Pittsburgh. Here are Murray's game logs for the first four contests.

Game Shots Faced Saves Save Percentage
Game 1 26 23 88.5
Game 2 38 37 97.4
Game 3 33 28 84.8
Game 4 25 22 88

Murray has been pretty good, but he's only had one truly superb game, which came in Game 2. He may need to deliver more of those type of outings for the Pens to win two more games in the series.

Moving Forward

It's now a best-of-three clash, and Game 5 is as crucial as they come.

Nashville has been the better team so far, but they only have two wins to show for it. If they can maintain their play in Game 5, they may have a chance to clinch the series on home ice in Game 6.