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Round 2

Nashville parties after Predators' Game 6 win against Blues

City embracing franchise's first trip to Western Conference Final

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

NASHVILLE -- Paul McCann has a powerful voice. As the public address announcer for the Nashville Predators, it is his most important tool.

His voice was useless Sunday in the minutes after the Predators won Game 6 of the Western Conference Second Round, 3-1 against the St. Louis Blues. That victory propelled the Predators to the Western Conference Final for the first time since they started playing in 1998.

Their opponent will either be the Anaheim Ducks or the Edmonton Oilers. Their best-of-7 series is tied 3-3.

After the game, McCann was trying to thank the fans, but only someone hell bent on hearing him could. "We'll see you for …"

 

[RELATED: Complete Blues vs. Predators series coverage]

 

The "Western Conference Final" part of McCann's sentence was drowned out by the collective roar of the fans at sold-out Bridgestone Arena.

The party was already at a fever pitch and had been since forward Calle Jarnkrok scored an empty-net goal with a minute remaining to seal the deal.

Suddenly, a raucous crowd became even further unhinged. They knew the next game in this building, Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, will be the biggest in franchise history. But for now, this would do and they responded with a state of rapture never before experienced watching these Predators.

As defenseman P.K. Subban stood by the bench, congratulating each of his teammates while they streamed off the ice after saluting the crowd, 19-year-old Zack Nienaber stood transfixed, watching from the 300 level, his light-up Smashville cowboy hat bobbing up and down.

Zack became a fan three years earlier and his love of the Predators allowed him to overcome the fear of crowds stemming from his autism, according to his dad, Kirk, who can trace his hockey lineage back to the Cincinnati Stingers but who has been a fan of the Predators since arriving in the area 15 years ago.

"Coming here is just a huge party," Kirk said. "People don't realize that the fans here were as loud today as they are on a Tuesday in February. It can't get any louder."

It was louder than any of the previous four home playoff games this season, all victories. It became crazier as the realization of what had just transpired took hold.

"This is history for Nashville in the making," said John Hoffman, who sat behind one of the goals with his wife, Nadine, well after the crowd had spilled out onto the streets, especially Broadway, the city's famous strip of honkytonk bars and barbecue joints.

They wanted to savor what had happened together for a few minutes. Each is a transplant to Nashville.

Nadine is from Canada, with a previous stop in Virginia Beach, Virginia. John is from Philadelphia, where he was a dyed-in-the-wool Flyers fan. Today, they are Predators fans through-and-through.

Finally, they collected their stuff and headed toward the exit.

The party was waiting from them right outside the entrance to the arena.

Video: STL@NSH, Gm6: Preds, Blues shake hands after Game 6

There was an overflow crowd at Tavern 96, the pub connected to Bridgestone Arena, and the square that surrounds it. Fans were high-fiving each other and hugging at every turn, mimicking the scenes of joy that played out amongst the players minutes earlier.

Nobody seemed happier than Janey Klieman, who was bouncing up and down while decked out in a bright gold sport coat adorned with Predators logos.

"Everybody is so happy," Kleiman said. "It's like the curse has been lifted. We've been waiting for this so long and it's just great.

"We're a small-market franchise and we have just embraced this team and it is so awesome that we have embraced this team, because we are not from the Northeast, we're not Original Six. We are so far down in the line of hockey teams, and the way this city has embraced this team is awesome. That is what is so cool about Nashville."

At one point, a man clutching a Swiss flag and wearing a black fur hat with a Predators logo, stopped to hug Kleiman.

His name is Isaac Levy, who moved from Switzerland to Nashville and adopted the Predators immediately upon arriving in the city 17 years ago.

Last year, he formed the Fur Hat Authority Smashville, a group of fans that wear fur hats to the games. The group started with three members and has already grown to 101.

Many were around Sunday, congregating on the deck outside Tavern 96, and served as the life of the party among the fans.

"The best party ever," Levi said, looking around at the mass of humanity, "with the best friends I could ever imagine. It's amazing. It's the craziest crowd you can ever imagine being in Nashville."

And, it was only starting.

"It's going to be great for the city," Kirk Nienabor said. "It's been a great month and, hopefully, we will have another great month on top of it and be playing here in June."

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