With 4-0 Mark, Nashville is Only Team in Postseason With a Perfect Home Record
by John Glennon @glennonsports / firstname.lastname@example.org
Bunkered inside the Predators’ locker room before a game, forward Austin Watson says he and his teammates can sense Bridgestone Arena’s pulsing playoff atmosphere well before witnessing it.
“We can hear the fans five minutes before we even go out on the ice,” Watson said. “It’s an incredible feeling. That crowd is bumping. You can already feel the energy, and we just feed off that.”
The Predators have indeed fed well in Nashville during the postseason, the latest example coming Tuesday when the Preds downed St. Louis 2-1 to take a 3-1 lead in the team’s Second Round playoff series.
That victory meant the Predators (4-0) remained the only NHL team not to lose a home game this postseason, a feat made all the more impressive when noting home teams have just a 25-30 record in these playoffs.
The Predators won their last four playoff games in Nashville last season as well, which means they’ve now won eight-straight postseason contests at home – the longest such stretch in the NHL since Chicago won eight in a row over the course of the 2013 and 2014 playoffs.
Is it possible that the maniacal environment created by more than 17,000-plus towel-waving, noise-making fans might have played a little part in crafting the current streak?
“For sure,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “I mean, it seems like every TV timeout, it’s the loudest building I’ve probably ever been in. It gets you pretty excited… They’re on their feet, cheering and giving us a standing ovation. It just riles you up even more.”
If there’s one thing that’s gained nearly as much national attention as the Predators’ on-ice march through the playoffs this year, it’s been the praise showered on the electric, in-game experience at Bridgestone Arena.
In the moments following the Predators’ Game Three win over St. Louis, NHL Network commentator Anson Carter said the most important advice for the Blues going into Game Four was, “Try to score first. Try to get that crowd out of (the game).”
Added fellow NHL Network commentator Jeremy Roenick: “The fans in that building, you’re right, they’re very rowdy and very emotional. They really get that team going.”
Every NHL arena, of course, is at fever pitch during the postseason.
So just what is it that makes Nashville so special, aside from the procession of country-music royalty that sings the national anthem – and the celebrities who rev up the fans just before the game?
Predators captain Mike Fisher notes that the size of Bridgestone Arena, which isn’t as cavernous as places like Chicago’s United Center, works to the home team’s advantage from a noise perspective. All those supporters packed together on top of the rink sound like an army, much the way Duke University’s small – but ear-blasting – home crowds impact games at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I think there’s bigger buildings in the NHL than ours, but our fans are so passionate,” Fisher said. “[The fact] it’s a smaller building makes the sound just unbelievable.”
Added Arpon Basu, NHL.com’s Montreal-based reporter: “A number of Blues players have mentioned that [Bridgestone] is a difficult place to play because the fans are right on top of you. The unique nature of the crowd here is that they really feel they’re impacting the game. You get a sense that they feel they’re having an impact on the visiting team and on their own team.”
Basu sees other reasons the Predators have carved out their own in-game identity as well.
One is the chanting that goes on from the home crowds here, especially when it comes to riding the opponents’ goalies – “It’s all your fault, It’s all your fault” – every time the Predators score.
“The chanting is also a very unique part of things here,” Basu said. “I guess it’s almost more of a collegiate atmosphere. But it’s really what makes it unique as far as hockey fans here.”
Then there are those lengthy standing ovations during television timeouts, when Nashville fans get especially jacked up at times most other supporters sit down and catch their breath. The Preds’ faithful rose in unison at least four times during Tuesday’s Game Four win over St. Louis, waving gold towels and roaring for the home team.
“I’ve been a part of different teams and different playoff runs,” said Preds forward James Neal, who’s also played for Pittsburgh and Dallas. “And honestly – I know every player says their fans are unbelievable – but you haven’t seen a rink with this much energy unless you’ve played in it. It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable. It’s so much fun to play in front of.”
The thunder of the Bridgestone fans during those television timeouts can make communication difficult on the bench, even though players and coaches are standing mere feet away from one another.
“You can barely talk to the guy next to you,” Neal said. “I know for sure it’s tough for the other team to play through. I’ve played in this rink before on the opposing team, and it’s a tough place to play. It feels tight. So to be on this side of it and make it your rink in the playoffs… it’s a fun, fun building.”
Neal got a firsthand taste of what all that emotion in the stands means to the players on Tuesday, just after he scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
As Neal pumped his fist near the sideboards, 5-foot-10, 180-pound teammate Ryan Ellis – spurred on by the raucous reaction of Preds’ fans – dove on Neal and took him to the ice with a celebratory tackle.
“The building gets so electric,” a smiling Ellis said afterward. “That’s probably why I jumped on Nealer. It was so loud in there that it just felt like the right thing to do.”