Smashville Stars As Preds Surge In Playoffs

Posted at 10:54 PM, May 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-02 00:03:07-04

The Predators have long provided the best sports entertainment in Nashville, but as the team racks up wins in the postseason the entire world is starting to take notice. 

"This crowd, I can't say enough," NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire said in the closing seconds of Sunday's 3-1 game three win over the Blues. "If you haven't been to a game in Nashville, put it on your bucket list. It's worth it."

Rose Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500, Smashville. That's no exaggeration. When it comes to professional sports environments, it's hard to imagine any can match Bridgestone Arena when it comes to pure entertainment.

Pregame hype videos projected on the ice, national anthems from mega-stars like Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and game three performers Little Big Town, an intermission band and, finally, an elite team to match.

The Preds have eliminated the Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks and now lead the Blues 2-1 while looking every bit the part of a Stanley Cup contender. That's why the rest of the NHL is starting to realize what a hockey gem Nashville has become.

"Nashville's second to none in terms of the game, entertainment and presentation on the ice," All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban said. "And if we keep winning, more fans are going to keep noticing."

The fans have long noticed in Nashville. A non-traditional hockey market, the team had lean years both on the ice and in the stands over it's first decade of existence. But when ownership committed to staying in middle Tennessee long-term, the Predators fortunes turned.

General Manager David Poile's built one of the most consistent teams in the league, reaching the postseason in 10 of the past 13 seasons. And fans have responded in kind, filling Bridgestone Arena with 17,113 delirious gold-clad fans every night.

"I think it's the loudest building in the league," Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. "Especially in playoffs, they're unbelievable from start to finish and it gives us that extra boost. It's great to see that the whole hockey world is starting to see how big of a hockey city this is."

The only banner that hangs from the Bridgestone Arena rafters is the number seven, a tribute to the team's "seventh man". Those fans make their presence felt before the teams even take the ice for the start of games, and continue to rock the building throughout the night, making it one of the toughest arenas in the NHL as evidenced by the Predators' seven-game home playoff winning streak dating back to the second round last season.

"They've just been awesome, they never disappoint," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "They're a big part, and I think I have to emphasize that. They really are the seventh man for us."

And it's not just inside Bridgestone Arena. The entire city of Nashville seems to be growing more and more in love with this team. Flags hang from front porches, bumper stickers are prevalent on your drive home, and TV's are glued to games.

The Predators game three victory over the Blues drew a 9.9 rating locally in the Nashville area, the highest TV rating in franchise history. The game peaked at a 14.3 rating and drew a share of 60.0, meaning that 60 percent of all the TV's that were turned on were tuned into the Preds. Even the team's game two loss Friday in St. Louis outdrew the second night of the NFL Draft.

This may still be a football town, but the Predators are no longer playing second fiddle. A city that many around the NHL believed wouldn't be able to support hockey long-term may now just be the best hockey market in the league.

Perhaps nobody knows how far the Predators organization has come than Vernon Fiddler. The veteran center played for the Preds from 2002-09, then returned in a trade this winter and the difference was immediately clear.

"We used to have 10,000 fans in the building and when we played Detroit, 9,000 of them would be Detroit fans," Fiddler joked. "Now you get in there and everyone's wearing yellow. And you go around town, doesn't matter where you go, everyone's wishing you luck and you can tell this is really their team."

It's been years since there's been any doubt about whether or not the Predators were Nashville's team, but this spring they're becoming the darlings of the NHL thanks to an exciting, young roster that's playing good hockey in one of the best atmospheres in all of sports.

Still not convinced? You'll have to check it out yourself because words just don't do it justice.

"You gotta come down to Bridgestone to see what it's all about," Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's just an unbelievable environment. It's loud, it's energetic, it's crazy."