NASHVILLE -- Though it was 30 hours before puck drop, workers already were installing extra barriers around Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday in anticipation of the thousands of fans who will clog Broadway to watch Game 7 between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators on big screens.
In the souvenir trucks on the adjoining plaza, merchants eagerly awaited the arrival of new T-shirts with "PRINCE FILIP OF FORSBERG" on the front. Near the arena entrance, a small plane sporting Jets and Atlanta Thrashers logos is a dented and crumpled mess, the result of having been constantly crushed with a lead mallet by Predators fans throughout the Western Conference Second Round.
Everywhere you look, Nashville is doing what Nashville does best: getting ready to hold a party of epic proportions.
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For the first time in their history, the Predators will host a Game 7 when they play the Jets on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). Home-ice advantage is Nashville's reward for winning the Presidents' Trophy with 117 points (53-18-11), three more than Winnipeg (52-20-10).
It hasn't been much of an advantage in this series so far though. The road team is 4-2. The Jets have won twice in Nashville, including 6-2 in Game 5.
"I think it's just two good teams that have won on the road," Predators defenseman P.K. Subban said. "Being on the road is a different mentality. We have to look at it like it's a road game. We can't let our emotions get too high off our crowd and just focus on what we need to do: take care of the puck, take care of our own zone, play solid defense."
No team has won consecutive games, an indication of just what a fierce, tight battle the series has been.
There is little to separate the Predators and Jets. At 5-on-5, for example, there is a one-goal difference between the two (Predators 12-11). In shots on goal through six games, the margin is four (Predators 217-213).
Video: Setting up a dramatic Jets-Predators Game 7
When it comes to the two coaches, the difference is marginal as well. Nashville's Peter Laviolette is 5-2 in Game 7s in his NHL career; Winnipeg's Paul Maurice is 2-0.
Laviolette is one of four coaches in NHL history who has won a Game 7 in each of the four rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (Pat Burns, Mike Keenan and John Tortorella are the others). His most memorable victory came as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes on June 19, 2006, when they defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in Game 7 of the Final to win the Stanley Cup.
Even with such a playoff pedigree, Laviolette feels neither team has an edge this time around. Nor does he know what to expect.
"These games have been played so many different ways that I can't even venture to guess what that would be," Laviolette said. "There's probably a long list of things that need to go well to be successful in a game. There's a list of things, it could be anything. Specialty teams to goaltending to defense to offense, whatever it might be.
"You don't know until you play, and especially in this series, I think the games have been so all over the map that you can't really put a finger on it and just say, 'If you just do this one thing, you'll be fine.' You try to play a complete game, focus in on that."
Laviolette has the last change Thursday, but he isn't one to constantly fret about matchups.
Video: Filip Forsberg's stellar postseason play
Nashville's top line of Ryan Johansen (three goals, five assists), Filip Forsberg (three goals, six assists) and Viktor Arvidsson (three goals, three assists) has combined for 23 points in the series. That hasn't stopped Laviolette from using them in a defensive role at times against some of Winnipeg's best players, like Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine.
"I'm comfortable in using them in almost any situation that comes up," Laviolette said.
If the Predators defeat the Jets, workers said the street barriers will stay up for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves though," one of them said as he was maneuvering one of the steel fences into place.
Indeed, in a series that's been too close to call, it's better to assume nothing.
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