How about those 8th seeded Predators turning Music City Nashville into hockey land by their amazing play on the ice in the Stanley Cup?
Swept the stunned Chicago Blackhawks, turned back the St. Louis Blues, and now two wins away from the NHL final as they are home Thursday to the Anaheim Ducks
By Arnie Leshin
Remembering the line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Who are those guys,” can now be updated and linked to hockey’s prestigious Stanley Cup, the most heralded trophy in any professional sport.
For those that follow this sport on ice, it’s those guys from Nashville, Tenn., the home of country music. What they have done is provide Music City with, let’s say, music to its ears.
That’s what it is these days, those guys in blue and yellow known as the Predators bringing a different sound to a city that can boast of a Country Music Hall of Fame that includes the likes of Elvis Pressley, Johnny Cash, Chet Akins, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Glenn Campbell, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and so on, and whose initial celebrity was then-Congressman Davy Crocket and his fiddling tunes and colorful stories.
Who are those guys? The dictionary says a Predator is one who preys upon others.
Whatever, they are nothing new to the city that also prides itself on Vanderbilt University, honky-tonk and fiddle music and buck dancing, the Grand Ole Opry, music venues everywhere, different cultures, and lists football, baseball and basketball as its favorite sports.
But not now, not when the talk is all about its hockey team. Its home has been the Bridgestone Arena, built in 1998 and where these guys have taken to the ice since 2004. It’s the place to be, but never like this.
Now they are scalping tickets for a 16,000-seat arena that has filled up since their 8th seeded darlings began a 10th time in the Stanley Cup in the last 17 years. Yes, they have been there, but nothing like now.
Now, as the fourth-place team in the NHL’s Western Conference Central Division, the last to gain the playoffs, these Predators have not only been the talk of the town, but of the surrounding areas around it, of the pro hockey world, and began these playoffs with a stunning 4-game sweep of the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, the Central Division winner three years after winning the Stanley Cup.
After taking the first two games in the Windy City, Nashville came home, country singer Keith Urban sang the national anthem, and nothing changed. It held the Blackhawks to but four goals in four games, and took off from there as Chicago exited trying to figure out what happened.
What happened was like the last seed in the NBA had eliminated the top seed. That’s rare, but the NHL has seen this before, the lower seed knocking off the higher seed, but this is more than that.
For the Predators let it be known they don’t stop there. Next they had St. Louis, the 4th seed that finished third in the Central Division, sing the blues by taking four of six, and as they did versus Chicago, again won game one on the road.
That’s what happens when you are an 8th seed. You have to begin with two games on the road and hope to at least get a split before coming home to an arena in which you have won 18 in a row. And for Nashville, everything fell into place.
Now it is the Western Conference final for the first time. Its home fans have been paying $195 to $381 for the upper level seats, $384 to $799 for the lower level seats, and $450 to $847 for the club seats.
Next round, no panic, no signs of pressure.
Again, the Predators opened on the road and won game, 3-2 in overtime over the Anaheim Ducks, the only division winner still in play. The Ducks came back to take game two, 5-3, but again the Predators responded before a standing-room-only crowd to rally and score twice in the third period for a 2-1 success.
Now these same hockey writers who gave Nashville no chance when the Cup began, have changed their tune. Ten writers, nine picking Nashville to gain the championship round against either the Ottawa Senators or the Pittsburgh Penguins, now playing the Eastern Conference final.
These two have also surprised, as 5th seeded Ottawa made it this far for the first time since 2003 and 4th seeded Pittsburgh upset the top-seeded Washington Capitols despite having four starters sidelined.
But who expected the Predators? Certainly not the Blackhawks, Blues or Ducks, but the pride of Music City is but two wins away from skating into the Stanley Cup final.
They have a 34-year-old goalkeeper in Pekka Pimme, and he’s minding the net like never before, and that’s been home and away. Their long-time general manager, David Poile, has been nominated as GM of the year for the fourth time, and has never won.
Maybe now is Poile time for the job he’s done at putting this team together, finally providing this city with a hockey team that is now on a mission to hoist the historic Stanley Cup.
Remember, this has been a city where music has been the common thread, connecting the heart and soul of Nashville and its people. Music is written, recorded and performing every day. There are 150 music venues.
It’s a place they call authentic, accessible, accommodating and affordable, and they all come together harmoniously.
Now add the magic performed by its hockey team, its men on ice, its new show in town. It’s a big hit now, and if these Predators get to carry the Stanley Cup, they will no doubt have a parade down the streets of the Music City.
And for those NBA faithful watching its own playoffs, a switch to hockey is a chance to see reckless abandon and fearless athletes. After all, how many basketball players can skate on ice?