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Mike Harrington: Fans were ready as Preds provide quite a show

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- You see a lot of things in this gig over the years. Historic moments, great stadiums and arenas, cities in a lather to support their team at its time of triumph. But what the international hockey media saw Saturday in and around Bridgestone Arena simply was something new to all of us.

The Nashville Predators got back in the Stanley Cup final with a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins but the First Star of this one was their fans and their city.

The final's first trip to Tennessee was a day-long festival, capped as the home folks wished with a victory that cut Pittsburgh's lead to two games to one.

By way of summary, Nashville won this one with a three-goal second period. Roman Josi and Frederick Gaudreau burned Matt Murray with goals in a 42-second span early in the period and James Neal created some breathing room by catching the Pittsburgh goaltender looking the wrong way in the crease and jamming the puck home with just 23 second left in the period.

Murray went more than 72 minutes without giving up a goal since early in Game Two before his defense -- and his glove hand -- betrayed him. Meanwhile, embattled Nashville starter Pekka Rinne gave up another bad rebound and yet another goal to Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel just 2:46 into the game and then didn't let in any others.. The Predators held Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without a shot on goal in the game.

Those, however, are all just mere details soon to be forgotten compared to the scene that surrounded this one.

Far more of note were the estimated-by-police count of 50,000 people  congregating on Broadway to watch the game on giant screens set up adjacent to the arena and the noise of those who found their way inside. There's a reason the Preds are 8-1 at home in the playoffs.

Whether it's some meaningless Tuesday night game in October against the Avalanche, they're loud here. But for what was the most anticipated sporting event in the city's history, the fans were in epic form.

Hockey Tonk: Nashville ready for its first show on NHL's biggest stage

P.K. Subban guaranteed victory in this one as soon as Game Two ended Wednesday in Pittsburgh and reiterated his confidence over the last two days. He knew.

"Driving into the rink, we saw the whole Broadway strip was packed with people," Subban said. "We knew what it was going to be like coming home, we wanted to take advantage of it and we did. That's one game and we move forward."

How loud was it?

Longtime NHL observers were wondering how the noise might have matched old Chicago Stadium during some of its halcyon days. This corner never made it to the original "Madhouse on Madison" before it closed in 1994 but I have my doubts.

As far as NHL arenas go, you'd be hard-pressed to find any like this. From this view, the only thing comparable these ears have heard was old Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series.

Fans were shoulder to shoulder on Broadway watching a pregame concert. They took turns smashing the Penguins-themed car parked in front of the building -- with former Bills coach and Preds season ticket-holder Rex Ryan among those grabbing the sledgehammer.

The warm-ups were the first thing that really stood out inside. Most NHL arenas are empty during them, with fans still coming in or standing in the concession lines. Saturday night, there were 17,000 gold-clad people standing in front of their seats screaming during them. The fans offered their support to Rinne as well, chanting his name

"Pretty cool. That was unbelievable," said Rinne, who made 27 saves. "Collectively we came to the locker room and everybody was telling each other we've never seen anything like that. As players, we're really proud to be part of that, to have a chance to get our fans recognized on the big stage."

"We're aware how crazy it was outside. You could feel the buzz," added Neal. "The hockey world is seeing it here now."

One catfish rained down on the Penguins during the warm-ups, with backup goalie Marc-Andre Fleury sweeping it out of the crease. Another skittered across the ice just as Martina McBride finished the national anthem, landing a few feet away from the Pittsburgh starters as they stood on the blue line.

The fans were loud during the first period even as the Preds were down. Said veteran PA Parenteau, inserted in the lineup after two games as a healthy scratch: "I played in the Bell Centre in the playoffs. This is crazy."

The first intermission saw a concert on the in-arena stage from Tommy Shaw of Styx. In the second intermission, a house band took over with a wicked Beatles rendition of "Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Little Help from My Friends."

Yes, as the song said, we all enjoyed the show.

The screaming and chanting built with each goal.  Most fans on the sides of the 100 level spent the entire game standing. It spread to the 200 and 300 level in the third period.

We have a series again. The Penguins have struggled this entire series, benefiting from Rinne's shaky goaltending in the first two games. The Preds were much better on their home ice and Pittsburgh has another force it has to deal with as well.

Ear plugs required.

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