Through multiple devastating injuries and various forms of adversity game-to-game, the team has continually beat the odds and found a way to survive.
I’m proud of the gutty efforts the guys have made, the way the team’s top two defensive lines have likely been the top two defensive lines in all of hockey, the way they have just plugged almost anyone into center and gotten quality ice time and the way goaltender Pekka Rinne bounced back from two nightmare games to start the finals.
But more than all of that, I’m proud of the fans. On the one hand, you have folks who are ride or die for this team, who have been there since day one and were crazy all along. With them, you have a legion of new fans, and they have been welcomed with open arms. Some of the new fans know a bit about the team and the game, while others just know the hometown team is doing something special and they want to be along for the ride.
Local media reports estimated 50,000 people were in downtown Nashville near Bridgestone Arena for watch parties during game three of the finals, the first Stanley Cup Finals game ever held in Nashville. That’s in addition to the packed — and loud — Bridgestone Arena.
It wasn’t just downtown Nashville that caught Preds fever. Watch parties were held across Middle Tennessee, including here in Lebanon at the Capitol Theatre and the Mt. Juliet Community Center.
During both games three and four in Nashville, several catfish were thrown onto the ice. I lost count.
I’ve been a Predators fan for quite some time and I never dreamed they would become this popular in Middle Tennessee.
In 2010, I helped run a Predators-focused blog with a friend of mine in college. I remember going to a sports bar with that friend once and, when we asked to change the channel on one of the TVs to the Preds game, and our server did so, several patrons shouted at us to leave, as they had several different college basketball games on, and wanted to watch them all simultaneously. I believe the direct quote from one of the gentlemen was that they were watching a “real sport.”
Just a few years later, that seems like a distant memory.
After a couple of good, old-fashioned whoopings in 5-1 and 4-1 victories in Nashville, I feel good about the team’s chances in game six, the one game left that will be held in Nashville, but they have to find a way to win either game 5 or game 7 in Pittsburgh.
I cannot imagine the pandemonium in Nashville if the Predators somehow find a way to win game 5 in Pittsburgh and come home with a chance to hoist the cup in Nashville.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Pittsburgh has a ridiculously talented team, particularly on offense. In the first two games of the series, they made Rinne look human, and Penguins goalie Matt Murray shut down the Nashville offense. Preds fans could easily face seeing the team’s season end in a negative way when game six is held Sunday night.
Win or lose, one thing is certain: Nashville has staked its claim as a premier hockey town, and NHL cities around our country and Canada should take notice.
Jake Old is a staff writer for The Democrat. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @wilsonnewsroom.