NASHVILLE -- The stage is set.
It sits smack dab in the middle of Broadway, as wide as the street, as tall as the honkytonks, topped by a banner with the logos of the Stanley Cup Final and Nashville Music City.
Standing in front of it Friday, you could hear hammers mixed with guitars as workers finished their preparations and musicians performed for crowds at Legends Corner, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Rippy's Bar and Grill, and all the other joints on the strip by Bridgestone Arena. You could smell the barbecue.
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You could only imagine what it will be like Saturday, when Alan Jackson, the newest Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, takes the stage and the Nashville Predators take the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). Fans are able to watch the last four songs streamed live on NHL.com at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Tens of thousands of people will listen to music and watch hockey as the Predators play in the Final at home for the first time. They'll watch live in the arena, on TV in the honkytonks and on three giant video boards outside.
"Our party will be … spilling everywhere," Predators President and CEO Sean Henry said.
That's what this will be, a party, and it will be full of surprises, per tradition. Expect another A-list anthem singer, the towel-waver to make sure the crowd is ready for hockey, a legend to join the house band between periods and celebrities all over the place.
"The fever is at an all-time high," NHL Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President Steve Mayer said. "This is the most popular event to happen here in a long time. I've gotten hundreds of people asking for tickets from the celebrity world. The crowd that will be here [Saturday], even if they're not performing, will be a who's who of the entertainment world."
Predators chairman Thomas Cigarran said it has reached the point where he is more excited than stressed.
"We love our team," Cigarran said. "We can play with anybody. Certainly we can play with the Penguins. I think it's going to be a great night inside and outside the building. That just shows how far this franchise has come."
The Predators have spent years building their team and connecting to their community, and this is the result: success and a sense of place.
Because Bridgestone Arena is right on Broadway, hockey is part of the scene. Because the Predators are good, it is the place to be seen. You hang out at your favorite place, then walk over and cheer for your favorite team, wearing gold, twirling a towel. Close your eyes and you know where you are because of the country music and organized chants.
"It's a unique atmosphere," forward James Neal said. "It's probably one of the best in the League. The fans love it. I know family and friends, when they come down, they can't get enough of Nashville. So it's a really nice place to live and play."
It's a model for the rest of the NHL.
"They've understood where their strengths are in the community, they've attached it to the NHL and now they've got all of these folks who love country music loving hockey," Mayer said. "Every team should look at what they've done here and take advantage of what they have to offer to bring in a new set of fans to the arena and to the sport."
Now that the Predators are in the Final, it has reached another level.
Pittsburgh had the highest rating for NBCSN's coverage of Game 2 on Wednesday. Nashville was No. 2. Guess which city was No. 5?
Knoxville, Tennessee, three hours away.
In Lebanon, Tennessee, an hour away, the Capitol Theatre has 'LETS GO PREDS' on the marquee and is holding a free party on Saturday so fans can watch Game 3 on the big screen. In the Nashville suburbs, fast-food places and oil-change shops have Predators messages on their signs. In neighborhoods where executives, coaches and players live, fans have put signs on mailboxes and lawns. Downtown, banners with the players' names and numbers hang on the pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River, and Predators logos appear on buildings from bars to churches.
"You go to the gas station, people are kind of nodding at you at the pump," general manager David Poile said. "You go into Walgreens, and people go, 'Go, Preds!' I mean, it's unbelievable."
The Predators trail the best-of-7 series 2-0. Should there be a Game 6 on June 11, it will be even more unbelievable. That is the last day of the CMA Music Festival, four days of concerts all over town, including Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans.
"I got here seven years ago and we've always said, 'What if we had the Stanley Cup with CMA Fest?' " Henry said. "You're going to have 100,000 people here for the CMA Festival touching and feeling what our league is."
All the Predators have to do now is win to keep the party going.
"[Saturday's] going to be special," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "I think it'll be one of the best sports atmospheres, definitely in NHL history."