Nashville and Pittsburgh are battling for more than just the Stanley Cup. There's a rivalry ready to pop between two balloon artists.
Sam Cremeens made a wearable Rinne costume in honor of the Nashville Predators goalie and when his Pittsburgh counterpart Eric Costello saw it, he built a likeness to the Penguins captain.
Cremeens, known around Nashville as "Sam the Balloon Man," built the bigger-than-life-size balloon version of Rinne last week. He had produced balloon versions of the Predators mascot Gnash, hockey sticks and pucks, but this was the first time he'd created a wearable balloon hockey player.
"This was all me," Cremeens told NHL.com. "It was just a labor of love and there's a little bit of marketing behind it as well. But to show my love for my Predators, it was something I had to do."
Video: Artist makes 8-foot tall Pekka Rinne out of balloons
You could say his inspiration for the project came from the sewers.
"I built a giant Raphael, the [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtle, and I was looking at it and saw that I can totally change that head shape and change the color and that's a hockey player," Cremeens said. "And then I was like 'I need to make Pekka.'"
Cremeens' creation, which used more than 500 balloons and took him eight hours to create, was featured on the local news and when Costello saw it, the Pittsburgh-based balloon artist/magician refused to be outdone. He put together an inflatable Crosby, which took roughly 10 hours to make and used about 600 balloons.
"It was a reaction to [Cremeens']," Costello told NHL.com. "I saw it on TV, and Sam and I are both professional balloon artists and we go to conventions together, so especially when I saw that it was him, I was like 'I can't let this guy get away with it, otherwise I'll never live it down.'"
Costello initially thought about countering Cremeens' creation with a balloon version of a Penguins goalie but could not decide between Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray. He ultimately settled on Crosby because he's Pittsburgh's captain and the face of the franchise, but also partially because the superstitious fan in him was coming out.
"Iceburgh and the logo are two things I've made in past years and then we tanked," Costello said. "I just won't make them again."
With the series tied 2-2, Costello drummed up support in Pittsburgh by trekking the city in costume, then settling at the watch party outside PPG Paints Arena for Game 5 on Thursday.
Cremeens plans to attend the Nashville party on Broadway for Game 6 on Sunday wearing his inflatable Rinne costume. He also hopes to make a giant balloon P.K. Subban sometime in the near future.
"I like him," Cremeens said of Subban. "That dude is good at what he does."
Though both costumes came out remarkably well, whoever's team wins the Cup will be one up on the other for bragging rights.
"I tried to poke him and prod him, but Sam is a really nice guy," Costello said. "We talked about maybe going old-school wrestler and calling out each other... but I think it's more of a bragging rights thing since we go to competitions against each other.
"We'll see each other next January at a balloon-twisting competition in Vegas. I have a feeling there's going to be a lot of razzing when we get there."