For about 20 minutes of Game 3, the Predators were unstoppable. Filip Forsberg scored the tying goal 3:54 into the third period, and Roman Josi netted the power-play winner with 2:43 left, and in between were two goals waved off for goaltender interference. Throughout, the Predators surged, doubling up the Ducks on shots on goal in the game, 40-20.
If the ice was tilted, some credit has to go to the roiling sea of yellow helicoptering towels and screaming its heads off every night. Nashville now has a 10-game home winning streak in the playoffs, dating back to last season, the best since the Red Wings won 10 straight in Detroit in 1997 and ‘98 en route to a pair of Stanley Cups. It’s a weird thing to say—though it gets less weird with every game and every year—but there’s a real home-ice advantage in Nashville.
“You’ve got to be in here to feel the energy,” Josi said. “It’s unbelievable. I haven’t been in a building with that much energy in my life, in my career.”
I’ll forgive Josi because he doesn’t have the opportunity to watch a lot of Preds games on TV, but: You can feel it from here too.
Not to geographically limit our comparisons, but the atmosphere inside that arena feels a bit like an SEC crowd, plus booze (relatively cheap too). Especially in these playoffs, Predators games feel like parties. The Titans’ Marcus Mariota and his offensive line were in the house, crushing beers, taking off their shirts, and displaying the catfish.
There was an animal on the ice last night, but it was a new one, and customized for the occasion. One fan hurled a plucked duck from the stands during a stoppage in play:
The knock on the Nashville crowds is that this is all a novelty to them, but what’s so bad about novelty? Novelty means excitement. Novelty means pulling in the uninterested and making them casual fans, and turning some percentage of casual fans into lifelong fans. It means kids begging to stay up past their bedtimes to watch the game. So what if the traditions—the towels, the catfish, the yellow-outs—are borrowed? They stick around long enough and they become genuine. If you’re inclined to pooh-pooh the idea of Nashville as a potential hockey town, ask yourself what you’re really hoping to prove—and what would be so bad about non-traditional markets becoming traditional ones?
In the meantime, I don’t know the extent to which good, engaged crowds (this stuff is great) are driving the Predators’ home success, or how much of that is just them being a legitimately great team that feels comfortable in its building. For a team that can go up 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals with one more home win on Thursday, the distinction is meaningless.
“I don’t know if there’s magic here or not,” James Neal said. “But we’re trying to make some magic.”