NASHVILLE -- Eager to get a glimpse of the Nashville Predators before they flew to Pittsburgh for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports), Jeremy Spalding and Jeremy Myers arrived at the Signature Flight Support private terminal before 9:30 a.m. CT on Wednesday.
The Predators weren't scheduled to leave until 1 p.m. CT, but Spalding and Myers wanted to make they sure they got a good vantage point.
"There were two people up here before we got here," said Spalding, who lives a 30-minute drive away in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. "I grew up playing hockey. This team means so much to everybody. So I figured I could come out here and show my support."
By the time the Predators began arriving in their cars around 12:30 p.m. CT, there were about 500 people behind the barriers lining the street chanting, "We want the Cup!" and "Let's go Preds!"
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It was a small sample of Predators fever that has taken over the city and the surrounding area.
"We got a little bit last year; this year, it's ramped up even more," captain Mike Fisher said after arriving in Pittsburgh. "I mean, we feel the support. We appreciate it. To have that, when you come back, even when we came back [down] 2-0, there were people out there.
"Regardless, they're there. Says a lot about our fans, the job they've done."
Nashville embraced the Predators well before they won Games 3 and 4 at Bridgestone Arena to tie the best-of-7 series at 2-2. If the Predators can win again in Pittsburgh on Thursday, the anticipation for their return and Game 6 here Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports) will bring this hockey-mad city to a frenzy.
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About 100,000 people are expected to be in Nashville for the Country Music Association (CMA) Music Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday. Either the Penguins or Predators will be in position to close out the series Sunday, so the Stanley Cup will be in Bridgestone Arena that night.
"The last two games have been, even for us that have been here for a long time and played in front of these fans in this city for a long time, it was unique," Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "It was a great experience and an amazing feeling to be out there. So I don't know [what the atmosphere will be for Game 6]. It's going to be crazy."
If the Predators are leading the series 3-2, the party atmosphere leading up to Game 6 will dwarf the ones prior to their 5-1 win in Game 3 on Saturday and their 4-1 win in Game 4 on Monday. The fans already are thinking ahead to what might happen. ESPN Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell said Tuesday on Twitter that a fan paid $31,845 on StubHub of four Game 6 seats along the glass.
"It will be nuts," said Butch Savage, who made the 30-mile drive down from Springfield, Tennessee, with his daughter, Brooke, and sons Carter, 10, and Caden, 6. "I can remember when the [Tennessee] Titans made it to the Super Bowl [in 2000] and the parade they had even though they lost. This place will be even greater than that."
John Garrison, 9, Madee Garrison, 7, and Riley Hunter, 7, brought Listerine bottles with them, hoping to give them to defenseman P.K. Subban, who said after Game 3 that Penguins captain Sidney Crosby told him he had bad breath. But none of the players stopped to interact with the fans.
Players waved from their cars as they slowly passed on their way to the parking area. Some had their smartphones out to record the scene on video. General manager David Poile had his driver's-side window down and reached out to give a thumbs-up to the enthusiastic crowd.
Among those in the crowd were four members of the Tennessee Air National Guard, who are stationed at nearby Berry Field. They said they were not permitted to give their real names, but they provided their call signs: Ticker, Knuckles, Hansel and Mallet.
Ticker and Knuckles are Predators season-ticket holders and attended Games 3 and 4 of the Final.
"We're here at work. We might as well come over and support the guys," Ticker said. "We support them all the time. May as well be here to support them."
Knuckles, who declined to say how he got his call sign, used to live in Buffalo and was a Buffalo Sabres fan, but now roots for the Predators.
"Coming from Buffalo, I've seen four Super Bowl losses, a Stanley Cup loss in Game 6, an Eastern Conference Final Game 7 loss in the third period in Raleigh (to the Carolina Hurricanes)," Knuckles said. "So I wouldn't know how to feel [if the Predators won the Stanley Cup]."
Knuckles wasn't the only converted Predators fan on hand. Myers, 27, is from Pittsburgh and moved to Nashville five years ago.
"Pittsburgh won it last year, so it's the Preds' turn," Myers said. "I'm not going to be mad either way, but I'm definitely pulling for the Preds. I'm just curious to see what happens once they win."
He's not the only one.