By Dave Schwab

This season’s NHL Stanley Cup Finals is down to a best-of-three affair with both the Nashville Predators and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins holding serve on their home court (ice) in the first four games of this series.

A crucial Game 5 showdown is on tap for Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh in an 8 p.m. start on ABC and the Penguins have been opened as -142 home favorites to regain the edge after opening an early 2-0 series lead. The betting line for the total has closed at 5.5 in each of the first four games and it has once again been set at 5.5 for Game 5.

Nashville at Pittsburgh Game 5 Overview

Overall, Nashville has to be pleased with its early performance in its first ever trip to the NHL Finals, but it also knows that there is quite a bit of work to be done to have any shot at actually hoisting the Stanley Cup as the first team to win four games in this heated matchup.

The biggest thing in the Predators’ favor could be the recent play of veteran goalie Pekka Rinne in their last two victories at home. He was spectacular in his first three postseason series against Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim with a stellar 1.70 goals-against average through 16 starts, but he looked lost at times in the first two games against Pittsburgh while his team was outscored a combined 9-4. After stopping 27 of the 28 shots in faced in Nashville’s 5-1 victory in Game 3, he was able to turn away 23 of Pittsburgh’s 24 shots in Monday night’s 4-1 win that evened this series at two games apiece.

It has been a tale of two teams for Pittsburgh in this series, but that has been the case for most of the postseason in seven-game battles against Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Ottawa in the conference finals to earn a return trip to the championship series. The Penguins have gone 5-6 in 11 road games this postseason and they return to Pittsburgh with a 9-3 record in 12 previous playoff games on their home ice.

Matt Murray took over the goaltending duties midway through the Ottawa series and in nine postseason starts his GAA stands at 2.08 with a .925 save percentage despite allowing eight goals in his last two starts. Pittsburgh’s potent offensive attack has been hit or miss at times during these playoffs, but it has tallied a total of 19 goals in its last four home games with the help of centers’ Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel, who have combined to score a total of 30 goals in 23 playoff games.

Nashville at Pittsburgh Game 5 Betting Trends

-- The Predators have lost five of their last seven games on the road, but they have won five of their last seven games played on a Thursday. The total has stayed UNDER or ended as a PUSH in eight of their last nine Thursday games.

-- The Penguins come into Game 5 with a 21-8 record in their last 29 games after a loss of three or more goals and they are a perfect 4-0 in their last four Thursday games. The total has now stayed UNDER in 10 of their last 13 games played in the Stanley Cup Finals.

-- Head-to-head in this matchup, the home team’s current winning streak now stands at seven games and the total has gone OVER the closing betting line in five of those meetings.

Nashville at Pittsburgh Game 5 Betting Prediction

You could say that Pittsburgh is lucky that this series is tied after four games given the way it has been outplayed on both ends of the ice. You could also say that the Penguins have the Predators right where they want them given their overall postseason experience on the NHL’s biggest stage combined with the ability to win ugly when they have to.

Past trends are not a fool-proof way to predict future results, but the home team’s ability to win games in this matchup cannot be ignored. In a series that appears to be destined to go the distance, I will go with Pittsburgh on Thursday night in Game 5.