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Stanley Cup notebook: Hockey-loving Barkley crashes Gretzky's party

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As press conferences go, this one was far from turrible.

Wayne Gretzky's routine meeting with reporters about his 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers being named the league's greatest team of all time in an online fan vote was spiced up by a celebrity party crasher Monday night in Bridgestone Arena.

Former NBA great and current TNT commentator/hockey fan Charles Barkley suddenly appeared with a microphone to the left of the dais as Gretzky and former teammate Paul Coffey were talking hockey.

Just then, Barkley jumped out and asked, "Who’s your favorite black athlete of all time?” as Gretzky and Coffey started laughing. Gretzky quickly replied, “Grant Fuhr,” his former Edmonton goalie.

Barkley then joined the rest of the meeting with reporters. He said he was told by Arizona neighbor and NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick, "You've got to come to Nashville for a game. It's the craziest thing I've ever seen." Barkley had been singing the praises of the Stanley Cup playoffs on the TNT studio show and said Commissioner Gary Bettman invited him to the game as a thank-you.

"The playoffs in hockey have been amazing," said Barkley. "I'm not breaking Earth-shattering news: The NBA playoffs have not been very good."

Barkley made plenty of news when he told TNT viewers he was sneaking back to his hotel to watch the double-overtime finish of the Pittsburgh-Ottawa series.

"There's nothing more nerve wracking than Stanley Cup playoff overtime hockey," Barkley said. "It's the craziest thing you're ever going to see."

Barkley said he first started following hockey with the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA and became a Philadelphia Flyers fan in the 80s when he began his NBA career.  One of the loudest points during a TV timeout in the first period Monday came when Barkley was shown on the arena jumbtron standing in a suite and waving one of the Predators' gold rally towels.

Barkley's favorite player was former Flyers goalie and current general manager Ron Hextall.

“I want to know if my guy really cares,” Barkley said of the ultra-aggressive Hextall. "You watched him, you know he cared.”

Gretzky congratulated the fans of Nashville for their support of the Predators and recalled the only game he played here, a 7-4 win for the New York Rangers in the final three months of his 1998-99 farewell season. Gretzky had five assists in the game.

"I knew it was going to be my only game ever in Nashville," he said. "I remember thinking I would have a good game because I knew it would be the only time I would play in Nashville. I was fired up to play, ready to play and excited to play and thankfully I had a real good game."

Three Edmonton teams were in the top five of the Greatest Team voting with 87-88 getting selected No. 4 and '86-87 being tabbed No. 5. The '91-92 Penguins finished No. 2 and the 76-77 Montreal Canadiens were voted No. 3.

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The NHL's Competition Committee made no recommendations for changes on replay challenges after meeting here Sunday. In a joint statement issue by the league and the players' association, the committee recommended teams not be allowed a timeout after committing an icing infraction and that faceoffs stay in the neutral zone rather than be brought all the back into the defensive zone when a team on a power play knocks down a puck with a high stick.

The statement read in part: "The Committee reviewed and discussed many aspects of the rules and how the game is played and was satisfied that no additional changes would be necessary or appropriate at this time."

Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey is on the committee but did not attend the meeting because he is in the final. The committee's co-chairs are former NHL defenseman, Mathieu Schneider, the NHLPA's executive assistant and Colin Campbell, NHL senior executive vice president of hockey. Five players, four general managers and two coaches comprise the committee, none affiliated with the Sabres.

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The Predators made some changes to their outdoor presentation for Game Four after overcrowding became a concern Saturday when 50,000 people poured into the tight downtown arena around the arena for the first home Cup final game in franchise history.

The immediate plaza around the arena was cleared for a time Saturday due to crowding concerns. Fans who wanted to watch the game on the plaza were required to get wristbands for entrance Monday. Some metal barriers that were lining sidewalks on nearby Broadway were removed in an effort to eliminate the shoulder-to-shoulder jams of people that clogged the walks Saturday.

Extra video screens were placed on Broadway for viewing and the crowd was encouraged to keep moving down the street all the way down to the Cumberland River facing Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

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