The Nashville Predators have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. The Preds beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 Monday night. Bridgestone Arena was at capacity, with thousands of additional fans outside. Many more celebrated at sports bars around the city.
In the closing moments of the game, fans at the Village Pub in Inglewood let loose, counting down the final seconds. The team had taken fans on yet another wild ride.
A wide variety of fans have gotten behind the team — including Scott Wagaman, a Washington D.C. transplant who said his other favorite team has disappointed him too many times.
“We’ve been impressed, though, moving this far south, how much they care about hockey," he said. "I actually wish I was downtown right now on Broadway, because I’m sure it’s nuts.”
The Predators are ailing from injuries to top players and gave up an early lead in the game. But they keep winning at Bridgestone Arena and have earned hockey converts like Kevin Thomas.
"We’re going tomorrow and buying our first jerseys," he said. "We are actually doing it tomorrow.”
He says he’ll join the downtown crowds to watch the cup, even if he can’t get a ticket.
Coach Peter Laviolette noted the excitement that has spread across the city in a post-game press conference.
"Nashville has really taken on a life of its own," he said. "I think our fans who have been so supportive for so many years, especially the last couple of years in the playoff runs that we've had, the energy that they bring into the building, and you guys see it just like we feel it on the bench. It goes to a level that I'm not sure goes anywhere else in the National Hockey League."
The Predators were the lowest-ranked playoff team but swept the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks and have now beaten St. Louis and Anaheim.
The finals begin Monday. Nashville will face either Pittsburgh or Ottawa.